Women expats warned over domestic disputes in UAE

The Human Rights Watch organisation has warned expatriate women living in the UAE that they could be subject to sharia law if they become involved in divorce proceedings or cases of domestic violence.

Businessman and business woman talking
The Human Rights Watch organisation has warned expatriate women living in the UAE that they could be subject to sharia law if they become involved in divorce proceedings or cases of domestic violence.The warning follows an investigation by the human rights group into three cases of expatriate UK women married to Westerners working in the UAE who reported domestic violence to local police.“The UAE has sharia courts but its civil and criminal courts also apply elements of sharia, codified into its criminal code and family law, in a way which discriminates against women,” said Human Rights Watch (HRW).“Under their interpretation it's permissible for a husband to physically chastise his wife and it is a crime for a woman to work without her husband's permission, for example.“So while the UAE's civil and sharia courts apply the principle of  ‘in the best interests of the child’ in cases relating to the residence of a child, the discrimination women suffer in other areas of the law may mean they don't get a fair trial in these hearings.”In two of the cases investigated by HRW, women who made complaints of domestic violence against their husbands eventually lost custody of their children in divorce cases.The report pointed out that no women's rights organisations exist in the UAE.“The UAE claims to be a leader in the region on women’s rights but apparently the courts don’t think beating your wife is a crime,” said Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East and North Africa director.“If the UAE is serious about women’s rights, it needs a domestic violence law, and to make clear to its police, prosecutors and judges that domestic violence is a crime.”A Foreign Office spokesman said, “We are aware of a very small number of divorce cases involving British nationals in the UAE, where the courts have applied aspects of UAE law which are based on Islamic principles.”The spokesman said that the Foreign Office provided a range of advice to Britons thinking of moving to the UAE and advice on specific types of consular assistance, such as child custody cases.“We have updated our Living in the UAE guide to reflect the use of UAE personal affairs law – which is based on Islamic principles – in child custody and divorce cases,” she added.Grant Howell, head of the Charles Russell family law firm, which has offices in the Gulf, told the Daily Telegraph, “The warning about the potential implications for Britons having their divorces or child custody cases dealt with by the UAE courts underlines just how important it is that expats are fully aware of their legal rights if their relationship breaks down.“The English courts can still be involved and it is essential that any expats faced with this situation gets advice from an English lawyer with experience in this area. The fact that they may not have lived here for many years does not necessarily rule out using the English court system.”

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