Exposing mothers’ lack of legal protection: Samira’s story
For five years and six months, Samira* shares, she was separated from her two young children with no recourse to see them or fight for custody. A recent episode of SAT-7 ARABIC’s You are Not Alone tells Samira’s story and highlights the lack of legal protections that can leave Middle Eastern women, and their children, very vulnerable.
“I can’t express my pain or how much I miss my children. They are my heart and my life. When I talk to them, I feel like a human with a soul. When they are not here, I feel lifeless,” Samira says on the program.
Samira contacted You are Not Alone in fear and desperation. When her relationship with her children’s father broke down, he prevented Samira from seeing their son and daughter, now aged eight and seven. Samira had no resources to fight for custody and feared that if she sought help, it would be refused – because the Lebanese legal system often favours the father in custody cases. Desperate to find work, so she could support her children if they could come home to her, she moved to another Middle Eastern country, despairing of Lebanon’s very difficult economic conditions. She continued to connect with her son and daughter via calls and messages.
But when she began to receive taunting messages saying her children were being physically and sexually abused in their father’s care, she called You are Not Alone.
“We had so little information to lead us, that we were not sure if this was true,” says Sirene Semerdjian, the program’s Presenter. “But she gave us an address and a photo of a seven-year-old girl who had been tied up and beaten. We alerted the authorities.”
After two visits to the address, child protective services officers found the girl and removed the children from the home, placing them in a foster home.
“It was very difficult. I can’t describe it. I’m a mother. I feel a pain in my heart when they are not with me. The information I got about my children was painful. It’s very difficult to describe what I feel, with them growing up far away from me,” Samira says.
“But with your help, the children are now safe with a good family who are taking good care of them, and we talk online,” says Samira. She is trying to scrape together the funds to bring her children to live with her. “I have even prepared a room for them here, waiting for them to come to me.”
Samira’s story on You are Not Alone shone on a spotlight on the discrimination and lack of protection women face under the legal system in Lebanon, which is mirrored in several other Middle Eastern countries. Lack of reform of the country’s personal status laws means women’s equal rights are not guaranteed in matters of divorce, property, and custody of children. Lebanese women who are married to foreigners cannot pass their citizenship onto their children, while a man can in the same situation. Women also lack adequate legal protection against domestic violence.
Recognising the equal value women and men have in God’s eyes and the need to share this message across the region, SAT-7’s programming aims to give women a platform to be heard and receive support, to raise awareness of the issues they face, and to show women their true value in God’s eyes by sharing the Christian perspective.
*Name and country of residence changed to protect identity