"For four years, I haven't seen my three children. I've grown weary, concealing my tears during the day and shedding them at night. My soul is tearing apart without anyone realizing. I deeply yearn for my children."
In these heartbreaking and helpless words, Aneesa Saleh (a pseudonym, 23 years old) narrates the story of being deprived of the custody of her children: Ahmed (three years old), Saleh (two years old), and Najwa (eight months old), who were taken away from her due to her divorce.
Despite her children being in the same village (Liyyan Village, Ibb governorate), she cannot meet them due to her husband's and his family's constant monitoring and watching of them all the time. Therefore, she peeks at them from afar, her heart bursting with pain.
Legally, Article (138) of the Yemeni Constitution stipulates that custody is the preservation of the minor (children) who cannot independently decide for themselves, encompassing their upbringing and protection from harm or damage, in line with their guardian's rights. Custody is unequivocally recognized as a right for the minor, and any deviation from this standard is strictly prohibited, except in instances defined by specific legal constraints and subject to prescribed circumstances.
Article (139) specifies the duration of custody as nine years for males and twelve years for females unless the judge, contrary to this, determines otherwise in the best interest of the ward.
“She became mentally ill after being deprived of her children. Her condition started with bouts of sadness and isolation, gradually leading her to use psychiatric drugs and medications, which no longer prove effective”
Maternal Deprivation of Custodial Rights
The mother's right to child custody lapses due to statutory limitations; however, in the context of rural Yemen, mothers find themselves devoid of fundamental rights. Males (husbands) dominate over females (wives), given the impossibility of wives’ access to the courts. Thus, they find themselves caught between the hammer of a male-dominated society and the anvil of the absence of law and justice.
Further, the divorced Yemeni women endure years of pain and oppression that ravage them both mentally and physically. Hence, their youthful spirit withers away, and strength transforms into a weakness incapable of resisting the remaining years of life. Meanwhile, as a result, some mothers experience psychological conditions, reaching levels of complete or partial madness.
In this context, Um Ahmed, from Al-Qafr region, Ibb governorate, speaks to "Khuyut," explaining her daughter's psychological condition, which worsened until she became mentally ill after being deprived of her children. Her condition began with bouts of sadness and isolation, gradually escalating to the point where she started using psychiatric medications, which no longer prove effective.
Children are Victims
Children of separated couples who lack stable family environments suffer from various psychological and educational problems due to their deprivation of their mothers and to a healthy family atmosphere. This suffering extends beyond psychological and behavioral issues to include verbal and emotional abuse, reaching the point of physical torture. Some cases of torture have even resulted in the deaths of children. The case of Ali Al-Hami (12 years old) stands as a striking example of this abuse, who tragically lost his life due to abuse and violence by his stepmother. Similarly, six-year-old Shaimaa Saif Ghaleb, from the Hamiar area, Wihir village, Anes district, Dhamar governorate, fell victim to brutal beatings by her father and stepmother without any mercy. Likewise, the tragic story of the murder of the child girl Leqaa and the torture of her sisters, a well-known incident involving Yemeni children in Egypt, captured public attention at the time. In the latter case, the children's uncle, along with their father's wife, tortured the girls until the child Leqaa lost her life. Then, the story concluded with the perpetrator's escape and the legal consequences for the other party. These are just examples of cases of physical abuse towards children due to their separation from their mothers, and what is hidden is even more significant.
Most studies indicate that children deprived of their mothers' embrace are more prone to psychological problems. Signs of mental disturbance often begin in early childhood, manifesting as excessive nervousness, fear of appearing, sleep disorders, and momentary, unjustified anxiety. After passing the childhood stage, these symptoms can evolve into behavioral deviations, aggression towards others, and a loss of trust in the surroundings. In his book "Maternal Deprivation: Part of Permanent Separation," psychologist Michael Hertz notes that "the permanent or prolonged separation is often due to the mother's death or divorce. In the case of death, it leads to a slight deviation in the child's behavior due to the grief experienced by the spouse. As for prolonged separation due to divorce, evidence suggests it is a fundamental cause of a child's deviation and future misalignment.”
For her part, the psychological researcher, Hebat Allah Mohammed Awad, has cited studies confirming behavioral and psychological disorders among children deprived of their mothers. One of these studies is the "Noor Al-Huda, 1990" study, revealing that children from broken families due to divorce or polygamy experience behavioral issues compared to those from intact families—who live in families consisting of only a father and a mother—showing higher personal and social harmony than their peers from broken families.
According to a study conducted by Rawiya Mahmoud in 1996, it was found that females with separated parents experience disturbances in personality, along with challenges in familial, health, emotional, and nervous aspects, coupled with symptoms of depression.
“In the absence of justice and effective law enforcement, mothers experience financial and psychological depletion due to protracted and convoluted court proceedings. Within the legal system in courts, they often find themselves encounter a law with a pronounced male bias”
Women, particularly mothers, cannot claim custody by simply addressing or approaching the court, as the vast majority succumb to the rule of the strongest and those who benefit most from connections and affiliations within the corridors of the courts and prosecution offices. Conversely, with much hope and enthusiasm, a group of mothers go to court, falling into two categories: The first consists of those whose families allow them to defy societal norms that frown upon the presence of women in public places such as courts. The second category includes women who fight against societal norms to forcefully reclaim their rights as human beings. These two categories are the ones approaching the courts to regain custody of their children. However, unfortunately, in the absence of justice and the enforcement of laws, mothers are financially and emotionally drained due to protracted and convoluted court proceedings. In court, they find themselves before a legal system with a pronounced male bias, presided over by judges, predominantly male, who lean towards diminishing a woman's right to custody. Amidst this complete scene, which includes a male judge, attendees, and lawyers who do not fully engage their intellectual capacities to rectify an unjust deprivation or for the sake of taking away a stolen right, the mother engages in a challenging and almost losing battle; her army is the pain she endures, and her weapon is the emotion of a mother, fighting alone against a man who utilizes all his financial and emotional influence to retain custody and to keep the children in his possession.
In this regard, Nasriyah Mohammed (a pseudonym) recounts her struggles with the courts to "Khuyut," detailing how the judge assigned to her case at the Southeastern Court of the capital turned into an adversary. Nasriyah states: "The judge was very obstinate with me, and his obstinacy was evident in the methods he used in managing the case of my claim for custody of my children. He would deliberately postpone the session dates every time a session was scheduled. He would also belittle me and disrespect my standing in front of everyone, despite the simplicity and clarity of my claim and my human and legal right to it. The case continued in court for nearly three years, whereas custody cases are supposed to be among the fastest cases to decide and issue rulings on."
As for Shaima Mohammed, who is standing on one of the courthouse stairs waiting for the arrival of the judge, who was assigned to her case before a year and six months, she tells Khuyut, "I come here almost daily in the hope of obtaining custody of my two-year-old daughter, whom I have only seen once since they took her from me at the age of five months."
Shaima continues further: "My daughter is being cared for by her paternal grandmother, while I have dedicated and spent all this time in the courthouse corridors, hoping that the law will reunite my daughter with me. However, every time a judgment approaches to lean in my favor, my ex-husband bribes the judge to delay the proceedings, for the sake of procrastination and draining me both financially and emotionally."
Lawyer Ali Hatem, a lawyer at the Southeast Sanaa Court, tells "Khuyut": "The suffering of mothers with custody will remain as long as the other party exploits their financial inability to litigate and file cases, in addition to the challenge of providing financial stability for their children in the event of winning custody cases. Consequently, some women relinquish custody rights and abandon their children due to their financial constraints, aiming to shield their children from risks and family problems that could impact their psyche."
Hatem concludes his speech by saying, "The father seeks custody of the child for his own benefit, not for the benefit of the custodian or the child. Accordingly, the mother’s relinquishment of custody of the child comes under the heading of an obligation that is not obligatory, and she has the right to retract it, as it is considered a waiver of something she does not possess."
"I still live in fear of being deprived of my child again, after a long dispute in the corridors of the courts, which ended in my favor, to the extent that I had to register her for distance learning (online) this year"
The Roots of Suffering
Several factors converge to create these obstacles for women demanding their right to custody of their children. At the top of these obstacles is the general societal attitude that sees the man as more entitled to his children based on the notion that "a child belongs to his father." This is compounded by legal shortcomings as well as the stance of the family and the husband, who employs all means to torture and humiliate his wife as a form of revenge without considering the consequences on their children. In some cases, children grow up believing that their mother has died due to years of deprivation from seeing or meeting them, only to later discover that they were deceived and that their mothers are alive. One of these cases is what happened to the young man, Mohammed, a student (17 years old), who studies at Al-Olufe High School in Sanaa, who spoke to "Khuyut" with a voice choked with sorrow, saying: "Since my childhood, I have lived under the belief that my mother is deceased. However, just a year ago, I learned that my mother is alive, and with this discovery that shook my being and my trust in those around me, I realized that I was deprived of her as she was deprived of me, by my father's order, unfortunately." Mohammed continues: "Recently, I started visiting her weekly, but unfortunately, until now I cannot call her "mother." It has become very difficult for me."
On the other hand, the families of divorced women also pose an obstacle when they refuse to accommodate their divorced daughter along with her children, for reasons including fear of financial burden, societal stigma, and racial classification of grandchildren. They consider the daughters' children as outsiders to the family tree, and some of these reasons are related to pressure on the man to reconsider his decision. However, all these reasons come at the expense of the children and their mother.
A woman may succeed after countless efforts and sessions in obtaining custody of her children, but the children’ staying with their mother is not guaranteed for life, except in rare cases. The constitution grants the mother the right to custody for up to nine years for a son and twelve years for a daughter, while the custody period in many Islamic countries extends to the age of 18, when children have reached adulthood and become capable of making decisions that suit their interests.
Iman Al-Abssi, a teacher at a private school in Sanaa, tells "Khuyut": "I still live in fear of being deprived of my child again, after a long dispute in the corridors of the courts that ended in my favor, to the point that I had to enroll my daughter in distance learning (online) this year; because she reached 12, and her father has started to threaten me that if I don't hand over the girl to him, he will abduct her from me, refusing to resort to the court to give her the choice and take her opinion on whom she wants to live with."
This is how everything conspires and turns against a mother seeking custody of her children, causing her to fail, whether through customs that only recognize the father's right to custody under the pretext that a son belongs to his father or through the courts that drain all the woman's mental and material resources, if any. Some mothers succumb to relinquishing custody because they fear poverty for their children due to their financial inability to support them and to bear the expenses of providing for their basic needs of food and clothing.