‘Do more to protect rights of Muslim women, their children, in divorce cases’

Many Muslim women don’t seem to know their rights – and that of their children – when going through a divorce.

Dewan Negara Senator, Fadhlina Siddiq, also wants these women to have greater access to legal aid.

“Advocacy and literacy about their rights, and that of their children’s, is (IS here is correct) lacking among Muslim women,” said Fadhlina, who is a lawyer.

“Some don’t even know the difference between the Syariah Courts and the Religious Department.”

Among the most critical times a woman needs help is when she decides to leave her home.

Fadhlina explained that was when many women suffer from “multidimensional poverty”.

“Some do not have access to money, as they had just fled from a troubled household, and cannot get help,” she said.

“Some do not even have money to call for a taxi to take them to hospitals, or the police station. Many also have no source of income, and struggle to survive on their own… They do not know whom to turn to for help.”

Fadhlina said this during yesterday’s launch of the Telenisa Statistics and Findings 2021 booklet in Kuala Lumpur. The event was co-launched by Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah.

Telenisa is a free legal aid clinic by non-governmental organisation, Sisters in Islam.

She added that those who were cash-strapped would not be able to engage lawyers to represent them in the Syariah Courts.

“We need to increase the number of lawyers who can provide legal aid to help these women.

“Selangor has four or five organisations that can help (women), but most states only have one.”

Fadhlina also said the courts should look at the mental health of those directly impacted by the dissolution of a marriage.

“Children can be badly affected if the break-up is not amicable. Children also lack representation when their parents go through a divorce.

“Lawyers only take care of their clients (the parents), but who looks out for the children’s interests?” asked Fadhlina.

“We need a forum where parents can discuss their problems in a calm, reasonable manner, so that we can find an amicable solution.”

Telenisa revealed a three-fold increase in domestic violence in 2021, among those who reached out to them.

SIS’ senior legal officer Ireeny Muzammel said it received 303 reports of domestic violence last year. There were only 99 such cases in 2020, and 199, in 2019.

Lack of communication (25 per cent of cases) was cited as the main reason for divorce, while domestic violence came in second, at 23 per cent.

The other reasons for divorce are – husbands not providing maintenance (20 per cent), infidelity (11 per cent), and polygamy (eight per cent).

Ireeny also said that child maintenance was the biggest issue affecting children, post-divorce, at 50 per cent.

The second biggest issue surrounding children is the issue of custody (hadhanah) at 34 per cent, followed by illegitimate children (14 per cent), adoption (three per cent), and guardianship (one per cent).

The statistics also revealed that among the issues surrounding child support were fathers who could not provide adequate maintenance (64 per cent), fathers who were not working (16 per cent), fathers who did not provide maintenance at all (14 per cent), and fathers who chose to disregard the court order (six per cent).

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