x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Alarming rise in abandoned households brings appeal

Fatherless and impoverished families must rely on handouts for survival says aid organisation.

Layla Ali Hassan with her son Hamdan Mustafa, eight, in their apartment in Ajman. Mrs Hassan's husband left his family and she divorced him. He has since disappeared and she struggles to provide for her children.
Layla Ali Hassan with her son Hamdan Mustafa, eight, in their apartment in Ajman. Mrs Hassan's husband left his family and she divorced him. He has since disappeared and she struggles to provide for her children.

AJMAN // Beyond the glistening lights of skyscrapers and shiny cars on busy roads are families struggling to make ends meet. While some have the luxury of deciding between choices for dinner, others worry whether or not their local supermarket will tire of allowing them to pay for food in instalments.

Human Appeal International (HAI), based in Ajman, is struggling to meet the demand for financial assistance from poor families across the country, like that of Layla Ali Hassan, a mother of six whose husband has vanished. Abdullah Mohamed Alawadi, assistant secretary general for finance and administrative affairs for Human Appeal International UAE, is appealing to individual and corporate sponsors for help.

"We are now helping at least 3,000 families, but since the beginning of the financial crisis, we have been inundated with new registrations, especially those seeking monthly support," Mr Alawadi said. "We have also seen a 70 per cent rise in families needing help during seasons like Ramadan and Eid compared to last year." Human Appeal International gives needy families social, educational and health care assistance through various programmes that aim to provide school fees, facilitate health requirements - be it through medication or major surgery - and ensure basic housing needs are met with donated things, such as air conditioners and refrigerators.

Mr Alawadi said one of the biggest problems is the rise in single mothers, because of abandonment and divorce. "One of our top concerns now are the children left with no fathers, the main source of financial support, to care for them. The number of divorced women is very high," he said. "Of the fathers who are around, some are unable to support all the children as financial burdens become too much to bear if they have lost their job or suffered pay cuts."

Mrs Hassan, a 45-year-old Qatari, spent 18 years with a man who she says constantly lied about their finances and emotionally abused her. She is now divorced and depends on support from Human Appeal International to cover her children's school fees. Her oldest child is 20 and the youngest is eight years old. At times, Mrs Hassan's husband would disappear for months, telling her he was working on projects but cutting off all contact. His wife would later learn he had been in jail. They moved often because of the non-payment of rent and the electricity would be cut off for months at a time.

Mrs Hassan would go to their local grocery and try to obtain as much food as possible by offering a delayed payment. "When we got married, he had a good job but he kept causing problems and was fired. He got another offer but did not stay long at the next job either. I never even knew how he spent his earnings," Mrs Hassan said. "Sometimes, when he was between work, he would just sit at home like a statue instead of finding a way to take care of his family."

It was not until undercover police came knocking on the door looking for her husband that Mrs Hassan summoned the courage to leave. He disappeared for a few days on the run from authorities and then called once, giving her the chance to tell him she had had enough. She did not hear from him again. When she went to court to apply for a divorce, the judge ordered her husband to stand trial via notices in local newspapers but he failed to respond, so she was legally granted a divorce a couple of months after. It has been six years and the latest she has heard is that her ex-husband is in prison in Abu Dhabi.

Diana Hamade Al Ghurair, founder of the Dubai law firm The International Advocate, said divorce cases have risen among both local and expat communities equally. "The reasons vary but mostly due to refraining from spending money and extramarital affairs," Mrs Al Ghurair said. "Although divorce is not easily obtained in the UAE, people will go all the way to get a divorce if they need to." She said matters related to divorce such as custody and alimony take a long time before the courts and cause great distress. Ultimately the children are the ones who suffer.

Devika Singh, a psychologist from Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre, said money, intimacy and communication are the top three most serious issues in relationships. "In cases like the above, it could mean the ex-husband suffered from a neurological problem where he is out of touch with reality and has no emotional regulation, especially if he is in trouble with the law," said Mrs Singh. She added when risks outweigh the benefits, the mix of money, power and control can become toxic.

"When there are obvious patterns of destructive behaviour, such individuals meet the criteria for a psychiatric diagnosis and may sometimes need proper care," said Mrs Singh. "Financial infidelity affects trust and so is often like any other type of infidelity." She has also seen the other side of the story where many men have been abandoned by their wives. "It's not only women who are being left, some of my male clients truly did not see it coming, their wives just simply up and left," she said.

In many cases, it is because of the lack of communication and being unaware of your partner's expectations. "When the husbands leave, sometimes it is due to feeling overwhelmed by trying to meet the emotional, physical and financial expectations," said Mrs Singh. Now, Mrs Hassan is no longer able to afford the Dh18,500-a-year one-bedroom apartment she shares with her six children. She has to move to Umm al Qaiwain by the end of the month where distant relatives have offered to put her up until a better solution comes along.

She is also unable to return to Qatar because her husband could not obtain an Emirati passport almost 30 years ago since his papers were not in order. "I came here under the impression he will have the Emirati nationality," Mrs Hassan said, "but that did not happen and because of this my children have no nationality." melshoush@thenational.ae