x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Children jailed with their mothers in UAE visa amnesty

Women expected to be sent home, but were prosecuted.

A mother holds her 10-month-old baby who was born in Dubai Central Jail. (Sarah Dea/ The National)
A mother holds her 10-month-old baby who was born in Dubai Central Jail. (Sarah Dea/ The National)

DUBAI // At least 10 children are in jail because their mothers were arrested when they handed themselves in during a visa amnesty.

The mothers are among about 61,000 illegal residents who came forward during the two-month amnesty from December 4. They expected to have their papers processed and be sent home, but instead were jailed for adultery, sex outside marriage and having illegitimate children.

Among those in Dubai Female Prison are Yakub Bhi, 42, and her daughter Mariyam, 9, who featured in The National in February, before the amnesty expired. Ms Bhi, who has lived in the UAE illegally for 11 years, said at the time she was too scared to leave as she had no papers for her child. The Indian consulate said it was working on processing the papers.

Ms Bhi was sentenced last week to five months in prison.

Her arrest surprised the Valley of Love non-profit organisation, who were handling her case.

"We believed that she would be allowed to return home on humanitarian grounds and there would be a police formality for a few days," said the organisation's founder, CP Mathew.

"But since the birth happened outside hospital and the child had no medical papers, the case was referred to court. Immigration cancelled the woman's outpass. We have to obey the rules and the rules say that when a birth happens outside hospital this is the procedure."

Authorities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai will not say how many mothers were jailed after taking part in the amnesty, but a second section has been opened at Dubai Female Prison to cope with the sudden increase in numbers.

At least four Indonesian mothers were imprisoned with their children after handing themselves in during the amnesty.

Wifnu Sinbhu Brismo, at the consular section of the Indonesian embassy, said another two mothers were at the embassy's shelter while they waited for their cases to be heard.

All the women are between 20 and 30 and their children range in age from 3 to 7. "These mothers delivered their children at home and the children lack any legal documents," said Mr Brismo. "They came forward during the amnesty and adultery cases were registered against them."

He said some of the women were married under Islamic law, but did not have marriage certificates.

"During amnesty, we, as the representative of the Indonesian government in the UAE, have to help with providing the proper documents. Among the procedures we need to carry out is getting hold of the passport, whether it is with us, immigration or the former sponsor.

"When the cases come to immigration with no legal documents for their children, the authorities start an investigation and police have to refer them to public prosecution and later to court."

Mr Brismo said the embassy respected the law, under which adultery is a crime. He also noted that in such cases only the courts can issue a birth certificate, and that they normally do so after a conviction.

"We do not give in, but we have to follow proper procedures," he said.

Women's rights groups said they were aware of other mothers arrested during the amnesty.

"We've received reports of Filipinas who were jailed along with their children born out of wedlock when they tried to apply for amnesty," said Melca Perez, who chairs the local chapter of Gabriela, a women's rights group.

"They thought that they would be freely allowed to leave the country without any jail term but then they were charged with having illicit relations."

She said while the group fought for women's rights, it did not condone the women's criminal actions.

"Women should also fight for their children's rights," she said.

"In this case, the children are the ones suffering inside the prison because of what their mothers have done. They should not be brought up in prison."

Dubai Police did not respond to a request for comment.

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