Manama: A Saudi grandmother is fighting for full custody of her two grandchildren amid concerns that the alleged violence inflicted on them by their stepmother could damage them.
According to the grandmother, Gazzal, 11, and her brother Ghazwan, five, have been living with their father and stepmother for four years after a court in the Western city of Makkah ruled that they could not stay with their mother following her remarriage.
“My daughter filed for divorce after six unhappy years with her husband,” the grandmother said. “Despite all her attempts, she failed to save her marriage and keep the family together at least for the sake of the two children. However, she later lost custody after she remarried and the two children went to live with their father. My daughter was given visitation rights on weekends and religious celebrations. However, her former husband did not fully comply with the decision and often prevented her for months from seeing them,” she said, quoted by local Arabic daily Okaz.
When the grandmother, who was not named, learned about the mistreatment they allegedly received from the stepmother, she took them to the King Abdul Aziz Hospital where she was given a report.
The Family Protection Committee was alerted through a national human rights commission and the father and stepmother were summoned. However, they denied causing any harm to either of the two children and the committee demanded the stepmother sign a pledge not to resort to violence with them.
But, according to the grandmother, the stepmother resumed hitting Ghazwan, often with a clothes hanger on his back and forehead. When the mother contacted the committee to report the incidents, the father explained that the stepmother hit him “without any bad intentions” and that she wanted “just to discipline him.”
However, the mother filed a case with the public court in Makkah asking for custody to be moved to the grandmother to ensure that “she does not lose either of her children in the repeated beatings and physical and verbal to which they were victims.”
The mother also complained that her two children were subject to manipulation to incite them against her.
The grandmother in her battle over the father said that she was the only one who could offer the two children a safe refuge from any form of violence.
A human rights activist told Okaz that they were monitoring the situation and that they were aware of the children’s conditions.
“We heard how the mother was unable to see her son on several occasions and that whenever she asked about him, she was told that he was sick or punished for not complying with the family instructions,” the activist said. “However, when the mother did see her son, she noticed that he was disturbed and that he was unable to sleep. When she enquired, he told her that the burns caused by a lighter his stepmother used to punish him on his thigh prevented him from sleeping.”
The sister reportedly said that the father did not want Ghazwan to see his mother until the burns had gone.
Several cases of domestic violence against children have surfaced in Saudi Arabia in recent weeks amid frantic calls by activists to reinforce ways to address it.