By Fatima Sidiya
Arab News | Jeddah
Oct 13, 2010
About 900 children born to Egyptian women and Saudi men in what is commonly known as “misfar” or “tourist” marriages are abandoned by their fathers, said an Egyptian activist at a recent forum on human trafficking.
Speaking at the conference in Egypt, Aiman Abu Akeel, chairman of the board of trustees of the Maat Foundation for Peace and Development, said that the majority of men who visit Egypt looking for misfar marriages tend to be Saudi, followed by Iraqis, and that the women they marry are predominantly younger than them.
“Misfar” marriage refers to a union contracted so that a woman may join her “husband” for the period of time he travels in a foreign country.
The women in such unions are divorced after a short time ranging from a week to a month, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Yaum Al-Sabi reported.
Speaking at the same forum, Azza Al-Jazaar, the general organizer of the Anti-Trafficking of Egyptian Girls program, said that these young women do not know they are being treated like commodities.
Their fathers receive up to 4,000 Egyptian pounds from these men for trading off their girls, she said, adding that most of these girls are below 16 years of age.
Statistics show that some SR100 million are spent on misfar marriages, which last for not more than a month, with 90 percent of Saudi fathers leaving behind children born out of such relationships.
However, Najeeb Al-Zamil, founder of the Back to the Roots Foundation, a nongovernmental organization that helps Saudi children abroad, said that although there are many such children in Arab countries, their suffering is less than that experienced by children born in non-Arab countries.
He added that these men abandon their families and children, as they fear what their relatives in the Kingdom will think.
He also said that while some children live in miserable conditions and turn to drugs and illegal activities, there are others who have become models and actors. He added that some of these children are smart and get educated, but they feel lost because of unrecognized parenthood.
“I met one Saudi-Filipino girl who said she has everything but feels she has nothing because her father doesn’t recognize her, while another said she feels like a puzzle with a missing piece. She said she wants her father to feel proud of her,” he said.
Al-Zamil, a member of the Shoura Council, said he has called for DNA tests to be recognized as a legitimate means of determining kinship, something that would force a father to admit parenthood. He also said that many of these children are not in need of financial aid nor do they want to come to the Kingdom but are desperate to be recognized.
There are 47 Saudi-Filipino children registered with the Saudi Embassy in Manila, but Al-Zamil believes their actual number is much higher with more people contacting them daily.
Saudi lawyer Ibrahim Al-Zamzami criticized women who do not bother registering their marriages, adding that this is what complicates matters. “If a woman has a marriage contract and witnesses, and if the child’s birth certificate states that the child is born after a legitimate relationship, authorities can force the father to accept the child as his,” he said.
“Even though the father violated the law that prevents him from marrying a non-Saudi without approval, this does not mean that any children from such a marriage will not be registered at the Ministry of Interior,” Al-Zamzami said.
He added that Saudi embassies have been advised to register children and issue temporary travel documents that allow fathers to bring their children to the Kingdom and arrange passports and ID cards for them.
Al-Zamzami said that fathers, however, could be punished for violating the law and that this could be in the form of a travel ban or a prison sentence.
Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, has warned against misfar marriages saying they are not different from “mutaa” marriages, which are conducted to fulfill desires unlawfully.
Al-Asheikh said traveling abroad to marry with the intention of divorcing upon return is not permitted in Shariah, and said such acts would have detrimental effects on society, women and children from such unions.