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Britons 'liable to Sharia divorces' in UAE

By Sheetal Parmar
BBC Asian Network

media captionAfsana Lachaux: I have had "no communication" with son after Sharia law ruling

The Foreign Office has warned expatriates living in the United Arab Emirates they could face Sharia courts in divorce or child custody cases.

UAE personal status law provides expatriates, even if they are not Muslim, with the right to have their case heard under the Islamic law.

It comes after a British mother lost custody of her son to her French ex-husband following a Sharia hearing.

In February, Afsana Lachaux was given a suspended prison sentence in Dubai.

Sharia is Islam's legal system and acts as a code for living to which all Muslims should adhere.

Ms Lachaux, from London, was found guilty of kidnap charges for failing to attend an access meeting between her son and her ex-husband.

'Bad mother'

The 46-year-old claims she was scared - having been the victim of domestic abuse, which her former partner strongly denies.

She told the BBC's Asian Network had she known Sharia law could be used by non-Muslims in court cases to decide divorce and child custody, she would not have moved to the UAE.

image captionOfficial translations of the custody judgement accuse Asfana of not obeying her then husband.

"The fact that I didn't obey my husband, that shouldn't be a matter to condemn… it shouldn't be a reason to take my child away from me," she explained.

The BBC's Asian Network has seen official translations of her Sharia divorce and custody judgement.

The former civil servant was branded an unfit and un-Islamic mother for refusing to obey her husband and having gay friends. It also ruled she was a bad mother as her son had eczema.

Since coming back to London, she has been campaigning for the British government to provide more support to women like her in the UAE.

"I can't see my son now until he's 18. I don't even know if my son is dead or alive. [My ex-husband] got custody through false information," she said.

'Dramatic change'

Tess Lorrigan, from Southampton, also lost custody of her adopted daughter, Olianne, in a Sharia court.

She was deported from the UAE in 2011 having been convicted of working without her British husband's permission.

Her now ex-husband was found guilty of assaulting her, but was able to put a travel ban on their daughter.

image copyrightLorrigan family
image captionTess Lorrigan lost custody of her adopted daughter, Olianne, in a Sharia court

"When I went there as a single person I had my own sponsorship. But then things change dramatically once you're married," Ms Lorrigan explained.

"I never dreamed that a British man would turn around and start abusing the so-called power he now had over me," she added.

Her ex-husband Michael got custody because under Islamic law in the UAE, the man is the main sponsor of children, including those adopted.

Human Rights Watch says UAE authorities are failing to respond adequately to reports of domestic violence and is calling on the country to revise its laws to recognise domestic violence as a crime.

Nick McGeehan explained: "First of all, it's the duty of the UAE to investigate and prosecute instances of domestic violence.

"Secondly, it has a duty to provide women in custody hearings with a fair trial and to ensure the decisions in those custody hearings are in the best interests of the child.

"If you don't do the first part of that equation, it is impossible for you to do the second."

Related Topics

  • United Arab Emirates
  • Foreign & Commonwealth Office
  • Children

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