Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

India proposes law to help safeguard women in the UAE from spousal abandonment

The government move will encourage abandoned and depressed women to seek help

REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

UAE residents have welcomed a proposed new law by the Indian Parliament that could help to safeguard women who have settled overseas from the financial burden of spousal abandonment.

A bill was introduced on Monday by India’s Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, which proposes the registration of overseas marriages.

The move would help to protect women who have been deserted by their husbands while living abroad, where they are often left with financial commitments and no source of income.

While women could already file a legal case in India against their estranged husbands, the husband’s location may not be known, making it difficult to locate them if they ignore legal demands.

Under the new rule, overseas marriages can be registered with the Indian government for 30 days.

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Once registered, women who are abandoned will have the right to apply to have their husband’s property seized or passport revoked if he fails to respond to court summons.

In January, the Ministry of External Affairs said that it had handled 4,189 spousal abandonment complaints from Indian women over the past three years.

Officials and social workers in the UAE backed the new bill, with the Middle East, US and UK cited as countries where Indian spousal abandonment is common.

Experts said it was a crucial starting point, and that men who mistreat their partners should now be worried about the consequences.

“The revoking of passports and taking of property is about hitting pressure points so that a person will behave and engage with the court and the matter can be brought to a close,” said Mr Vipul, the Indian Consul General to the UAE.

“There have been cases of wilful neglect and abandonment by husbands when the men do not answer court summons and do not listen to any authority in India.

“There are cases like this in the UAE – the men can shift base and then the consulate has no control. This is exactly what the bill will address. It will put a check on this behaviour.”

Sailaja Menon, a psychologist who counsels families at the Indian consulate in Dubai, said that women who have been abandoned by their husbands often show symptoms of depression.

“Women are in psychological distress after they have been abandoned and in some cases they are left alone with a child. They come [to the consulate] feeling powerless, helpless and worthless,” she said.

“This registration [of marriage] is fantastic because it highlights the rights of women and gives them a sense of power … a reason to come forward.

“It will make women see that it is their legal right to reach out to the consulate or the ministry and that their case will be taken seriously.

“When you have hope, you can take the next step forward. These women feel their lives have been destroyed.”

UAE volunteers who work with women in distress say they have seen cases where a husband has asked his wife to sign for a loan, but fled the country when the debt grew.

“It’s a very important move because we see women suffering after their husbands leave,” said Pam Gouri, a volunteer who deals with women in distress.

“Women are often left to fend for themselves. They put their faith in their husbands [to support the family], but can’t survive once the husband has fled.

“The woman is left unable to leave the country – there will be a case filed against her for non-payment if there is a loan.

“At least in the future, a woman will have some security. She will feel secure because the husband will also be held responsible.”

The bill must now be passed by the lower house of the Indian Parliament, before requiring assent from the president, and becomes a law.

Updated: February 14, 2019 08:29 AM