Saudi Arabia's Human Rights Commission (HRC) has raised alarm over cases in which women are unable to register children born in Misyar (secret) marriages. The latter is becoming a popular option among Saudis. Though such marriages aren't exactly illegal in the country, they're not officially documented.
Misyar marriages have increased in number across the kingdom. Experts believe this is due to the fact that some Saudi men are no longer able to afford expensive costs linked to traditional marriages.
The director of the commission in Jeddah, Saleh Sarhan Al-Ghamdi, revealed that many men refuse to legally register their children, and such cases are on the rise in the kingdom but often go unreported. The commission has been working on such cases for the past three years in order to ensure unregistered children get their rights.
A father's refusal to register a child is a "gross violation," Al-Ghamdi said since it renders the kid stateless and unable to obtain official identity papers.
A Saudi woman recently registered a complaint with the commission, saying she is secretly married to a Saudi man who is refusing to register the couple's 5-year-old child. She also accused her husband of rejecting to document their marriage or issue their son with any identity papers.
The woman told HRC that when she delivered her child, the father admitted her to the hospital under the name of his first wife in a clear case of forgery.
Authorities fear that other women married in secret are resorting to similar measures to deliver babies at hospitals. This is because couples expecting a child must present hospitals with official marriage documents when a woman is admitted for delivery.
"Misyar marriages don't guarantee any rights for women"
Reema, a Saudi social worker and women's rights activist, said women stuck in secret marriages suffer in silence.
"These kinds of marriages are very common and popular in Saudi Arabia. They're convenient for men but extremely dangerous for women," she told StepFeed.
"Misyar marriages don't guarantee any rights for women. When a bride signs this contract, she agrees to waive a number of rights that would normally be granted to her. I've worked with several women who married in secret and suffered all forms of abuse in silence. Many of them also struggled to get their husbands to register children born during these marriages," she added.
In order to protect women who choose to marry in secret, a legal framework needs to be implemented. This would include clauses forcing husbands to register children born out of Misyar marriages.
"It's crucial that women who are left vulnerable by these kinds of marriages are given all the legal support they can get," Reema stated.