The girls’ last escape was five months ago. Mona, Nadin and Lina took refuge in the home of their mother, who had been divorced from their father nine years ago. According to a court verdict issued in 1999, the mother can only see the girls on Fridays from the afternoon until early evening. She tried to get custody of her daughters, but all her attempts were unsuccessful. She was hesitant to speak to the press until she realized it was her final recourse.
“Five years and I’ve been trying to have my daughters live with me. My ex-husband is an imam and member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. He uses his religious appearance as a green light to get under people’s skin and get what he wants,” said the mother in anguish.
The girls, whose ages are 21, 16 and 15, said that after the divorce their father told them their mother abandoned them so she could pursue her career and that she did not want anything to do with them. But only after they grew up, the girls saw their father and stepmother for who they were.
“My stepmother touches my breasts and my sensitive areas. Her words are obscene. I got my menstruation for the first time in the midst of a battering session by my father,” said the oldest sister Mona.
In August 2007, Lina, the youngest daughter, ran away from her father’s home heading to her mother. Arab News has a copy of a medical report that diagnosed the state she was in as an acute stress reaction.
Lina sat absorbed in her thoughts while her mother and Mona described the incident.
“She was suicidal and in a horrific psychological state,” said the mother. “When I first opened the door and saw her standing there, I thought their house had burned down and she was the only survivor.”
Mona and Nadin were still at their father’s home after the youngest ran away.
“My dad threatened us. He told us that if he killed us, no one could take legal action against him because he is our father,” said Mona.
He then went to the Civil Rights Department and filed a complaint against the mother and her husband that they kidnapped his daughter. When the mother received the summons, they wanted her to give back the daughter to her father.
“But she wasn’t in a stable psychological state. I asked them to wait until she recovered and then I would take her back to her father,” the mother said.
Instead, they took the mother — who was nine months pregnant at that time — and put her in jail. She was bleeding while pleading with the prison officer to get her out. They were completing procedures to transfer her to the General Population Prison.
“My ex-husband took the girl from my house and put her in the shelter home. It was only when he submitted a letter stating that fact to Civil Rights that they released me,” she added.
After the girls’ final escape to their mother’s house, they filed a complaint to the Ministry of Social Affairs. After investigating their case, they set up a date where the girls met face to face with their father.
“I was so terrified to meet him. Of course, he denied everything. He claimed that he and our stepmother treated us nicely,” said Mona.
After the meeting, the girls agreed to go back with their father but only if he agreed to their conditions. They wrote a letter with the conditions that included: Continuous follow-up from Social Affairs to their case; no physical or mental abuse; no interference by the stepmother; that they receive the allowance their Qu’ran memorization school grants them monthly (SR250); that they continue their college education; and that the 1999 court verdict granting the mother limited visitation be annulled so that she gets considerably more time with her children.
The father did not agree to their conditions. Two months ago, the mother filed another complaint wanting to take custody of her daughters or regularize their visits. They met with Judge Abdul Rahman Al-Hujailan who didn’t want to listen to what they had to say.
“He said to me that a woman is incapable of preserving herself, therefore, she’s incapable of preserving her daughters. He also said that according to the Hanbali School, I’m not allowed to see my daughters since I’m divorced. I should secretly go to visit them at their father’s home when he’s not around,” said the mother. Everyone turned a deaf ear to the girls’ case. Only Ali Al-Hinaki, general director at the Ministry of Social Affairs’ district office for Makkah province, was cooperative and responsive, said the mother. He told Arab News that girls escaping their fathers’ or mothers’ home is a recurrent social problem.
“Children are always the victims of divorce. In this case, the father believes he and his wife are offering the best to the daughters. The girls are saying the opposite and they insist they don’t want to go back home with their father,” he said.
He said that through studying the case he concluded that the father lacks the proper methods of dealing with the girls. He also said that during reconciliation sessions the father appeared to be rigid.
“Things have escalated now and there is nothing Social Affairs can do. We mainly look after physical abuse cases and sexual harassment. This case be referred to the justice system,” added Al-Hinaki.
He emphasized the fact that young girls and teens need their parents’ love, caring and understanding. If young girls were faced with scolding, unfairness or blame, they end up suppressing their feelings.
“And if they get the chance to escape, they will. That’s why girls run away from their homes. Fathers, mothers and siblings must provide love and care to their young daughters or sisters and listen to what they have to say,” Al-Hinaki said.
Arab News attempted a number of times to contact Mona, Nadin and Lina’s father, but he did not respond. The girls are still with their mother, frightened that he might show up to take them back with him. Nothing much was done to annul the verdict or to help the girls. The mother went to the National Society for Human Rights office in Jeddah.
They issued a letter asking the Jeddah Governorate to annul the verdict. Yet again nothing has happened so far.
“Things are uncertain,” said the mother in tears. “We’re scared to even answer the phone at home. Isn’t there anyone to help us?”
— The names of family members have been changed to protect identities."