According to the UK-based The Telegraph, Human Rights Watch (HRW), which monitors human rights issues internationally, has warned that expat women may face unexpected problems in the United Arab Emirates if they experience domestic and/or sexual violence while residing in the UAE.
HRW accuses authorities in the UAE, home to an ever-increasing large numbers of British expats, of “failing to respond adequately to reports of domestic violence.”
It also highlighted the use of Islamic law, which discriminates against women.
HRW said it is aware of complaints from a number of expatriate women who say their reports of domestic violence to police in the UAE were not taken seriously.
It also highlighted cases where woman have seen custody of their children given to their former partners, who have prevented them from seeing the children.
“The UAE has sharia courts, but civil and criminal courts also apply elements of sharia, codified into its criminal code and family law, in a way which discriminates against women,” said a HRW spokesman.
“Under their interpretation it's permissible for a husband to physically chastise his wife and it is a crime for a woman to work without her husband's permission, for example.
“So while the UAE's civil and sharia courts apply the principle of “in the best interests of the child,” in cases relating to the residence [custody] of a child, the discrimination women suffer in other areas of the law may mean they don't get a fair trial in these hearings.
HRW also warned that there are no independent women’s rights organizations in the UAE.
The Telegraph has previously reported on the case of Afsana Lachaux, from London, who was a senior civil servant at the Department of Work and Pensions before moving to Dubai in 2010, shortly after marrying her ex-husband, who is from France.
Lachaux has not seen their son, Louis, now aged four, since October 2013, and fears she will not be able to see him until he is 18 after being found guilty of “kidnapping” him during a bitter custody battle with her ex-husband.
Mr. Lachaux took legal action against Afsana for abducting Louis when she failed to take him to a court-ordered access meeting. Mrs. Lachaux said she did not appear in court because her husband had threatened her, a claim he denies.
She complained that the police dismissed her allegations of domestic violence and that the court that heard the case refused to listen to her evidence and witnesses.
Mr. Lachaux, 46, alleges that her ex-husband, who is Christian, exploited Dubai’s legal system to gain custody of the boy and have criminal charges brought against her. She offered her backing to the HRW campaign to highlight the problems women can face in the UAE.
“You can be a non-Muslim man and effectively use sharia law. Mr. Lachaux stipulated he wanted to use sharia. The reason is that under sharia, women are treated like second-class citizens and are denied rights in sharia courts.
Women like me can be divorced without your knowledge and sharia law can be used against you even if your husband, like mine, is not Emirati and you married in England.
Afsana Lachaux, the mother of son, Louis, has not seen him since 2013.
COMMENT: Mrs. Lachaux warned women to think carefully about the implications of living in the UAE in the event that their marriage fails.
Mrs. Lachaux emphasized: “I want the Foreign Office to warn women that Dubai is a dangerous place for them. You don’t get protection from the police and from the courts. I made one mistake and that was going to the UAE. If I knew what I know now, I never would have left Britain.”
Another woman who feels strongly that she did not receive fair treatment at the hands of Dubai’s legal system is Tess Lorrigan, a schoolteacher from the UK. She was deported from Dubai in 2011, and forced to leave her adopted daughter behind, for working without her estranged husband’s permission, which is an offense there.
Tess Lorrigan is continuing to fight through the courts to have Olianne, the daughter she and her husband adopted from Nepal before their marriage broke down, returned to her. Olianne is now aged eight, and Ms. Lorrigan has not seen her for more than a year.
She warned women thinking of moving to the UAE: “If you’re in a very happy secure marriage with no problems whatsoever, Dubai is a place where you can have a good life. But if there are any strains on your marriage whatsoever, you should go with a secret get-out plan should you want you want to go home: “Don’t tell your husband what you are doing.”
She said that the FCO provides a range of advice to Britons thinking of moving to the UAE and advice on specific types of consular assistance, such as child custody cases.
"We have updated our Living in the UAE guide to reflect the use of UAE personal affairs law – which is based on Islamic principles – in child custody and divorce cases," she added.
The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in London was invited to comment on this article, but declined to do so.