When she was 35, Mabrooka Hussein feared she might never get married. “So I decided to venture into a mixed marriage, despite the warnings I received,” she recalled. She finally tied the knot in 2009 to Fareed, an Egyptian man 10 years her senior. He proposed to her through her uncle. “The engagement and marriage happened very quickly,” she said.
Five years and three children later, Huseein’s husband disappeared. “We were a family, and now my children are fatherless,” she said in tears. Her children are considered “illegitimate” because her husband did not register them with the Egyptian Embassy or leave any documents that prove his paternity.
Amal, now 40, got married in 2002 when she was 25 years old to an Algerian man named Hamadi who worked at a bakery in downtown Tobruk.
Amal got acquainted with Hamadi through a relative, and they agreed to marry. She demanded that he complete all procedures to obtain a residence permit, which he did and they were successfully married.
The couple enjoyed a relatively stable life and had two children, but Amal’s ordeal started when her husband’s embassy refused to endorse their marriage contract.
Amal applied to the foreigners’ office at the Civil Registration Authority in the city. She managed to produce birth certificates for her children, and when they reached school age, she enrolled them at a private school in which they continued up to the elementary stage. The problem, however, was that the children had no ‘national number’ which all Libyans need as a proof of citizenship. This proved to be a stumbling block for their education, because elementary education certificate requires the mother’s national number if the husband is a foreigner.
Three years ago, disappeared and never turned up again, leaving his children in legal limbo.
Cases like those of Amal’s and Mabrooka’s are prevalent across Libya, according to Ghanim Abdulaly Eisa, director of Foreigners’ Affairs. He says that the number of Libyan women married to foreigners according to the Civil Registration Authority in Tubruk is 1381 women, 6% of whom had their husbands disappear.
Most of these women are unable to officially register their children because the majority of the foreigners living in Libya do not have proper legal status or valid residence or visas. Due to incomplete procedures by the husbands, their Libyan wives are unable to produce family registration papers. Consequently, the children are left without national numbers or birth certificates.
In addition to what Eisa has mentioned, Karima Mousa, prosecutor at the Libyan Supreme Appeal Court says that the Libyan law has so far not promulgated any legislation about Libyan women’s marriage to non-Libyans. Marriage in this case happens through an ad hoc judge following a social investigation by the social security department. As such, the children are considered foreigners and registered in the foreigners’ books with the Civil Registration Authority.
According to the prosecutor, the Libyan law seeks to minimize marriages to foreign nationals by requesting the latter to obtain court approval in addition to the social security report.
Social science professor at Tubruk University, Salema Abdullah believes that there are several reasons why foreign husbands disappear including: the social perception of foreigners’ children and husbands’ feeling of inferiority in their environment.
Abdullah adds that a family’s consent to their daughter’s marriage is often motivated by the parents’ “fear of their daughter’s sliding into deviation, especially with respect to divorced daughters. In many cases, parents do not verify the identity of the prospective husband.” Social affairs registries are full of cases in which the husband abandons his families.
Due to the endless problems faced by Libyan women married to foreigners, many wives hasten to register in the “Homeland Strangers’ Society”, founded in 2013 by a widowed Libyan woman who had an Egyptian husband. This society aims to alleviate the suffering of Libyan women who are married to foreigners and protect them from violence. It also supports women’s rights and helps them benefit from available services, drawing on the society’s chairperson’s personal experience after her husband’s death.
The society chairperson says that the number of registered members has amounted to 1350 wives, including widowed and divorced women, in addition to wives abandoned by their husbands and others who lead a normal life.
The society, headquartered at a school in Tubruk offers legal and psychological services in addition to holding regular meetings to provide advocacy to its members.
“The motive behind marriage must not be based on a transitory interest that crumbles soon after fulfilling that interest, because women are humans, regardless of nationality.”