The weapon of choice

The weapon of choice

DIVORCE proceedings in Saudi Arabia, already fraught with stress and tension, are increasingly seeing feuding parties using children as pawns to blackmail, intimidate and enact revenge against one another.

One shocking tactic involves a parent uploading a video recording of mistreatment of their own children to taunt the other parent, Al-Riyadh daily reports. The video of the infant girl known as Dareen is one such example.

In the video, Dareen’s father is seen slapping the girl and then violently shaking her. He sent the video to the girl’s mother to taunt her after a court gave him custody of their children.

The mother uploaded the video on social media where it went viral, attracting the attention of the authorities. Police arrested the father and Dareen was eventually reunited with her mother but the case highlighted a disturbing trend, Al-Riyadh said.

Academic researcher Khalid Al-Doos said child abuse is a complicated problem that exists in all societies but differs from one country to another in terms of how prevalent it is.

“The latest study I read shows that over 30 percent of children in the Kingdom are subjected to some form of abuse, be it physical or verbal. This is a dangerous indication that this problem is on the increase and needs a drastic solution,” he said.

According to a report released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), a large number of children are abused verbally and physically around the world, abuse that can have a lasting negative impact on children’s mental and physical well being.

Al-Doos claimed the increase in child abuse cases was a result of the rapid social changes Saudi society has been witnessing in recent years. New social behavioral patterns and inhumane practices have emerged in society and the Dareen case was just the tip of the iceberg.

“The main cause of abuse is marital disputes, family disintegration and a domineering husband or wife. Secondary causes include poverty, absence of responsibility and psychiatric problems. Electronic games and movies can promote violence and brutality against children. Therefore, the media and mosque imams should raise public awareness on the rising number of domestic child abuse cases and their resulting effects on society,” he stressed.

Kholoud Al-Tamimi, executive director of Al-Mawaddah Charitable Society that works to tackle divorce, blamed the Kingdom’s high divorce rates for the emergence of child abuse cases.

“Divorce rates have risen sharply over the past few years. The Ministry of Justice’s statistics indicate that the problem is only worsening and we need urgent and preventive measures to tackle it,” she said.

As a charitable society, Al-Mawaddah aims to reduce divorce rates and create ways to help married couples who are at loggerheads to either reconcile or end their marriage on good terms and find amicable solutions for child custody issues such as visitation rights. The society also strives to ensure that children do not get caught in any disputes that may arise among divorced couples. To safeguard the well being of children, the society provides psychological support and protection to children mired in divorce disputes and arranges meetings for divorced parents to visit their children.

Lawyer Reem Al-Ajam said fathers often resort to abusing their children to pressure their wives to relinquish their custody rights and deprive mothers from seeing their children as a form of blackmail. Recently enacted laws require fathers to follow court orders that grand custody to mothers. Any father who disobeys a court ruling faces penalties including imprisonment and fines.