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Sharjah couples urged to legalise their status as police clamp down

Unmarried couples told to wed, while expatriates who married at home must register locally.

SHARJAH // Couples living together out of wedlock should immediately get married or formally register their marriage with the courts if they want to avoid prosecution, police and justice officials warned yesterday. Police are going door-to-door looking for unmarried couples breaking the law by sharing a home, as part of a tough new campaign launched this week. They have already arrested one couple living together with their two children in Al Qadissiya, who could face prison terms or even lashes if successfully prosecuted.

Lt Mohammed al Amin, a spokesman for Sharjah Police, said: "It costs less than Dh500 to have a marriage registered in Sharjah, and I can't understand why people should live together for years, and have children, without ever legalising their marriage." He advised couples to go to the Sharjah courts and register their marriages if they had not already done so. His warning was echoed by Judge Saleem al Hosni, the head of the Sharjah Islamic Courts, who said: "It costs you only Dh200 and we give you a marriage certificate with a marriage card."

The new police campaign is targeting two types of cohabiting couples: those who are not married at all, and expatriates who were married in their home countries but have not registered their status here. Officers are knocking on doors and demanding to see documents proving marital status if they find men and women living under one roof. Married residents, hearing about the campaign, have been rushing to dig out their certificates.

Fahad Niaz, a married Pakistani resident living with his family in Al Qadissiya, said the police had not yet knocked on his door but he was expecting a visit. "I have asked my wife to keep close our marriage certificate. We always look for it when we are going to renew our tenancy contract but this time it has to be close so as not to waste the police's time once they come here," he said. Abdul Mohammed, an Egyptian resident, said he was making sure his new proof-of-marriage card was safely in his wallet in case the police came to his door.

"I support the police to conduct patrols and hunt unwed couples. This is a Muslim country and Islam prohibits fornication," he said. Ismail Shaheen, 30, an Egyptian expatriate, said he was recently stopped by a police patrol at night on Al Arouba Road as he was driving home with his new wife. Although the officers had been looking for drunk drivers, they were clearly also on the lookout for breaches of the law regarding marriage.

"When they saw me with a young lady, they asked for our marriage certificate. Thank God I had just got a new portable marriage card being issued by Sharjah courts recently and it was in my wallet," he said. Ahmed Ansar, an Al Qadissiya resident whose family are in Pakistan, said the police had knocked at his door and asked to see his visa. He believes he was lucky his wife was not staying at the time, because he does not hold a marriage certificate.

"My wife sometimes visits, at least once a year. We are legally married but don't have any certificate because in my country it's optional, and since my wife is not on a resident visa I have never bothered to find one," he said. Lt al Amin, the police spokesman, said the two children of the arrested couple - an Arab man and an Asian woman - were being kept with their mother at the police station. If the couple were sentenced to imprisonment, the youngsters would be taken into a care home.

He said there had been no further arrests since the launch of the campaign. Although couples could technically be flogged if convicted of living illegally out of wedlock, they are more likely to face prison terms of under a year, said Salah Mabrouk, a lawyer who regularly practises law in Sharjah. ykakande@thenational.ae

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