Children Without A Country
By Abdul Rahman Al-Khatarish, Ibrahim Al-Qirbi and Fahd Al-Madhi
15 April 2009
There are children who do not have Saudi citizenship even though they have been born to Saudi fathers or mothers. These children face a number of problems that affect their future, such as, not being able to register for school or receive medical treatment. However, the question arises: How can this be? How can these children be deprived of their Saudi citizenship?
The following cases show that there are a number of ways in which this might happen. A Saudi may be in another country and might marry a woman and have children with her. He then returns to the Kingdom leaving behind his children without any identification papers. The children then have no recourse but to apply to the Saudi consulate to attempt to prove their nationality.
It may also happen that a Saudi girl marries a non-Saudi man. Then the children face the arduous task of obtaining citizenship so that they can be admitted to school, get medical treatment in hospitals, own real estate, as well as enjoy the many other privileges of those who have Saudi citizenship.
Three without IDs
Among the unusual cases that have come to light is that of three children from one father but two Saudi mothers. This state of affairs came about when the non-Saudi father deceived his two wives by telling them that he was a Saudi citizen, showing them forged identification papers as proof. The man lived with the two Saudi women for many years and was blessed with three children. However, he was eventually found out, exposed and imprisoned. During his stay behind bars, he divorced both his wives without rectifying the situation of the children’s citizenship.
The second wife and mother of a boy, said, “I grew sick and tired of visiting the concerned administration. I tried with the Civil Status in Jeddah to get a birth certificate for my son or any identification papers that would enable him to be admitted to school, but whenever I demanded that the situation be rectified, I was subjected to another investigation.”
The first wife and mother of two girls, said, “I tried to obtain birth certificates for my two daughters proving that my husband was their father. However, I am still running from one government office to another to try to find a solution. All my efforts have so far been in vain.”
An even stranger case is that of Nada Habbas Al-Anezi, a Saudi, who married a Saudi woman who did not have citizenship documents due to her father’s death 45 years ago. It is noteworthy that her brother, Fraij, has Saudi identification papers, but she has not been able to benefit from them.
Al-Anezi said, “Some time after marrying this woman, I wanted to add her to my Saudi family card. However, due to my ignorance about the regulations and fearing for my job, I dragged my feet in completing the transactions which ended up having tragic consequences for my 13 children.”
He narrated the details of his children’s suffering as they do not have documents proving that they are Saudi citizens. “My eldest son is now 21 and none of my children have ever been admitted to school. I was forced to send them to schools giving literacy training to adults,” he said.
Al-Anezi added that he has spent the last six years trying to find a solution for the problem of his children’s citizenship. He visited the Civil Status Department in Riyadh and Taima and the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) in Hail, but all his efforts were in vain. He also said that as his children do not possess identification papers, he has no right to receive social insurance.
Osama Rashad Muhammad Al-Qassir narrated the case of his father and brothers. “My father is originally a Saudi from Shagra. He traveled to Egypt where he was trading in camels and settled and married there and was blessed with children. He then married my Saudi mother and was blessed with two sons – me and my brother Muhammad. Then he came to the Kingdom with my mother in 1951. He worked in a company in Taif Governorate with an Egyptian passport and a Saudi residence permit (Iqama). He searched for his relatives until he found them in Dhiba. Eight of his cousins testified about his Saudi origins and descent and that he was from their family. According to the testimony signed by the Shariah Court and due to my mother’s wish, my father divorced her and returned to Egypt,” Al-Qassir said.
He added, “Two years later, my father married an Egyptian woman with whom he had five children. In 1992, he visited the Saudi Embassy in Cairo and submitted an application to retrieve his Saudi nationality. A dossier was opened at the embassy, which wrote to the Civil Status Department in Riyadh asking them to question the witnesses and their sons to corroborate the signatures. This was done. According to the transaction, the Saudi Embassy in Cairo wrote to the Egyptian Immigration and Naturalization Office requesting information on my father and whether or not he was of Egyptian origin. The reply was that my father was not of Egyptian origin. Hence, on this basis and according to the letter from the Head of the Citizens’ Affairs Department in the Kingdom’s Embassy in Cairo addressed to the concerned authority in the Kingdom and the Director of the Egyptian Travel Documents, Immigration and Naturalization Department, the Egyptian nationality was changed in the birth certificates of my father and his children to Saudi nationality. Hence, the Egyptian nationality was dropped for all of us – my father and his offspring. After that, all the papers were sent to the Civil Status Administration in Riyadh. I came to the Kingdom and obtained an Iqama under my mother’s sponsorship so as to follow up the transaction because the Egyptian nationality had been withdrawn from my father, and it was, therefore, impossible for him to travel. I visited the Civil Status Administration and they asked me to bring two people who knew my father. I brought them and they signed a statement according to Article 26 of the Citizenship Regulation. At the request of the Administration, I also brought two of my paternal aunts and their testimonies were taken. They identified my father, as mentioned in the dossier. After all of this was done, the transaction stalled for 10 years. Finally, following correspondence between the Saudi Ministry of Interior and the Egyptian Embassy, the matter was referred to a committee. Three months ago, they told us we were not entitled to the Saudi nationality because the documents only go back to the fourth grandfather. We spent 15 years following procedures to restore our Saudi nationality, but all our efforts were in vain. Furthermore, we have lost our Egyptian nationality, which we had acquired through residing in Egypt and through my father marrying an Egyptian woman.”
60 visitors every month
As can be seen, there are various cases of Saudi men who married Saudi or non-Saudi women only to have the children of these marriages end up without identification papers.
In this connection, Turki Bin Muhammad Al-Mulafikh, Director General of Civil Status in Makkah Region, said that the average number of people who visit the department is between 40 and 60 per month. He stressed that the Civil Status Regulation is clear – if the father is a Saudi who married a non-Saudi woman, the children directly acquire their father’s nationality.
However, this must be proved by an attested birth certificate for each child from the Saudi Embassy in the country in which the father’s marriage took place and where the children were born. These documents must be submitted to the Civil Status which will in turn grant the children birth certificates, which will make it possible for them to be included on their father’s family card.
Al-Mulafikh added, “However, if the mother is Saudi and the father non-Saudi, there are certain conditions that must be taken into consideration. The mother should have been a Saudi citizen when the child was born. The child must reach adulthood (18 years of age) but must not exceed 19 years (the age when the choice is his). The child must submit an application for Saudi citizenship at the Ministry of Interior giving his full name, address and telephone number and then copies of his documents if he has obtained an Iqama and passport. Also, he must submit copies of his father’s documents (Iqama and passport).”
Dr. Zuhair Al-Harthi, official spokesperson of the Human Rights Commission (HRC), confirmed that his body studies all cases that reach it and makes every effort to look for a quick solution to the problem. He said after studying a case, it is then referred to the concerned authority. Some cases, especially those in which there is a dispute between the couple, are referred to the Shariah courts to issue a verdict and give each party his or her rights. This is done with the aim of looking into the circumstances and background of the marriage and the dispute between the couple.
Dr. Al-Harthi pointed out that although the commission does receive complaints, they are not widespread despite the increasing number of marriages taking place outside the Kingdom. He said some people resort to Misyar, ‘Urfi or Mut’ah marriage. These marriages are often not documented properly as required by the regulations, as the objective of the marriage is usually pleasure. However, the existence of children linking the two parties aggravates matters, and it is at this point that problems begin.
Adel Abdullah Al-Thubaiti, a member of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) said the issue of children who have been denied Saudi citizenship is not a widespread problem despite the existence of some cases in different regions of the Kingdom, adding that there are other cases abroad. He stressed that there should be strict regulations to curb the occurrence of such problems.
Al-Thubaiti said that the issue has legal dimensions and the NSHR strives to carefully study all the cases it receives. He further said such cases have arisen recently in Saudi society, which is confirmed by the Monitoring and Follow-up Committee. Al-Thubaiti expressed his hope that different measures would be taken to find solutions to these problems while safeguarding the rights of all.
Conditions for citizenship
An official source in the Passports Department said the non-Saudi wife of a Saudi man has the right to demand Saudi citizenship, but five years must have elapsed since she was married and she has to have had children from her Saudi husband. What is most important is that the husband must give his consent to grant her Saudi citizenship. The official stressed that it is impossible to grant a woman citizenship without her husband’s approval. If he does not approve, the case is referred to the Shariah Court.
If a non-Saudi woman is married to a Saudi man, he becomes her sponsor (Kafeel), and he has the right to send his wife on an exit-only visa. However, before he can do so, there are certain important conditions which must be met, such as, there must be no children from the marriage and more than one year must have elapsed since the marriage took place. If there are children from the marriage, the case is referred to the Shariah Court. In some cases, the sponsorship is transferred to one of the woman’s sons or to the woman herself pending the issuance of an appropriate decision by the court.
Marrying a non-Saudi woman
In the same connection, Ali Asiri, a lawyer and legal consultant, said there are clear and specific conditions in the case of a Saudi man marrying a non-Saudi woman. These regulations have been laid down for the interest of all. Whoever violates the regulations will bear the consequences of his mistake which may result in a prison sentence. The concerned authorities have the right not to allow the wife into the country if the regulations have not been followed. Whoever commits a mistake must bear the consequences, Asiri stressed.
If a Saudi woman wants to get married to a non-Saudi man, she must get her guardian’s consent. The regulations make it clear that penalties for violators include signing an undertaking plus imprisonment. Asiri added that the marriage becomes legal with the consent of the guardian and the concerned authorities as well as fulfilling the required conditions. He said that following the regulations will later facilitate completing the legal procedures for the children.
Abdullah Al-Hamoud, Chairman of the National Society for the Care of Saudi Families Abroad (Awassir), said work in the society’s branches in Jeddah and Dammam would begin in a month and a half in order to put an end to the suffering of Saudi children by providing them with legal advice on obtaining Saudi citizenship. He pointed out that there is a plan to open a branch for the society in the Asir Region soon, and he confirmed that the society is continuously monitoring the socio-economic conditions of the families in coordination with the concerned government departments. However, the society often suffers from the lack of cooperation of fathers who refuse to recognize their children and provide for them.
Al-Hamoud pointed out that there were at least 15 cases of fathers who refused to officially add their children to their family card. After several attempts by the society are made, the fathers make a preliminary recognition of their children, but regrettably they do not complete procedures to make the recognition official.
These are among the problems Awassir faces, and therefore, the society intends to organize an awareness campaign during the summer season when the movement of Saudi travelers to overseas countries increases. This campaign will urge Saudis to avoid places likely to contain individuals offering to arrange marriages – some of which are unrecognized.
In the same connection, Al-Hamoud added that the number of Saudi children abroad is being enumerated to accumulate accurate statistics as to their number, ages and other important information about them. He pointed out that on average there are three to four children in these families and that most of the children are girls. He said that there are more than 1,500 girls who have reached a marriageable age, adding that the enumeration will continue until the society has gathered all the necessary information.
He stressed that the society has nothing to do with the issuance of identification papers for Saudi wives and their children abroad nor does it process documents for them to obtain Saudi citizenship in coordination with the ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs, the HRC and NSHR, as has been rumored. – Okaz/SG