Forcibly separated from her two sons, Sharjah mother fights back for their custody from husband
Sharjah: On August 12, Arafath will turn four. But his mother won’t be around to hug him. Instead Irum Iqbal will be kneeling down in prayer – a routine she has zealously followed every evening since January 13, the day Arafath and his younger brother, Hasanath, whom she was still breastfeeding – were snatched by her estranged husband and flown to Hyderabad, India without her knowledge.
Irum, 27, is a Pakistani citizen, while her husband, Mir Zarafath Ali, is Indian.
Given the thorny relations between the two countries, the likelihood of Irum going to India and wresting custody of her children, both Indian passport holders, is as minuscule as the eye of a needle.
Yet Irum is hopeful of being reunited with them. “I have faith in Allah. I am sure my prayers won’t go unanswered in this holy month,” she said wiping away her tears.
Irum has also moved the Sharjah Sharia Court seeking a divorce and custody of her children. On August 8, the court summoned Ali. He didn’t show up. Instead, he sent Irum a Letter of Reconciliation laying down some bizarre terms and conditions for his return. Among them: Irum will give him whatever she has earned since he has been away; provide a break-up of her expenditure all this while; agree to hand him whatever she earns in future; not maintain any social networking account; visit her family only once a week and not leave home without her husband’s permission.
Irum will forego the right to take legal action against Ali if she signs the draft, says a clause in the Letter of Reconciliation, a copy of which is with XPRESS. Ali has drafted a similar letter for himself.
Irum and Ali got married in the UAE in November 2006, but their bliss didn’t last long. They had regular fights. Irum claims the fights became more frequent and intense when Ali lost his job and his family business in Sharjah suffered losses. “He started to live off my salary. When that wasn’t enough, he started selling my jewellery. One by one he sold off all the pieces. I didn’t mind that as I wanted to salvage our relationship. But when he sold the last piece, he threw me out of the house. Two days later, he flew away with my kids to India. I am living a nightmare. In the seven months that have rolled by since then, there has not been a single day when I have not wept thinking about Arafath and Hasanath. They are so small. I don’t know how they are managing without me. Hasanath is not even two years old. I was breastfeeding him when he was taken away,” said Irum who works with a telecom service provider and currently lives with her parents in Sharjah.
Irum said she was emboldened to talk about her plight after coming across an earlier XPRESS cover story (June 16, 2011) on Dubai-based Maimouna Liskauskaite whose children were snatched by her husband under similar circumstances.
“I can relate to Maimouna as I am going through the same hell. When I read about her, I rang her up. We talked about our kids and tried to console each other. It was a futile attempt because towards the end both of us were crying.”
Desperate to have her kids back Irum has now urged Indian authorities and NGOs to intervene. “This is not about India and Pakistan, this is about a mother and her children,” she said.
P.K. Askok Babu, Consul (media) at the Consulate General of India admitted the case is “complicated”.
“It was brought to our notice after Ali had left for India. Ali had approached the Consulate… he has been advised to take the legal route to resolve the dispute with his wife,” Babu said in an e-mail statement to XPRESS.
On his part, Ali denies any wrongdoing. He said he was ready to accept Irum provided she signs the Letter of Reconciliation and mends her ways. “I have seen her smoking and drinking and have photographs to prove that,” he said over the phone from India. He said he has mailed the offending pictures to the judge, but refused to send them to XPRESS. “I respect the privacy of my wife and do not want to malign her.”
Irum ridicules the queer reasoning. “If he can talk about my supposed smoking and drinking habits, why can’t he send the pictures as well?”
Parental child abduction on the rise
Parental child abduction is proving to be a growing concern in the UAE. Experts reckon this is largely because of the country’s large expat community. A parent or grandparent could face legal action if he/she abducts his/her own child or grandchild from the person who has legal guardianship or custody as established by a UAE judicial decision. But since the UAE is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, foreign governments cannot enforce their own laws here. Statistics on parental child abduction in the UAE are hard to come by, but information released by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), gives an indication of the magnitude of the problem.
According to FCO, the UAE is one of the top locations for abductions of British children by one of their estranged parents.
The US State Department also reported seven cases of child abduction (under US law) in 2009 in the UAE involving nine children, up from six cases in 2008 and four cases in 2007.