The suffering and plight of the Muslim single mother is an all too common story, which is largely left untold, because it embarassess the family, the community and our institutions.
Abandoned by their former husbands, they struggle to feed themselves and their children. Despite a court’s decision that the former husband must pay alimony and maintenance for the children, many single mothers claim that they receive no money, because enforcement is poor.
The problem with errant former husbands has existed for many decades. Many women struggle to find work, and at the same time, pay for child care whilst they go to work. The women who have no skills are the hardest hit. Many have to keep two or three jobs just to bring enough money home to feed themselves and their children.
If they have sympathetic parents, who are able to feed the extra mouths, and take care of the children, whilst the mother goes to work, then the burden is reduced.
What happens if the parents live in a rurul area, where job opportunities are much reduced, and the woman is unable to find work, or locate adequate schooling for her children? What will the woman’s parents do if her parents are poor and cannot help financially?
Single mother to be whipped
A few days ago, we learnt that a 30-year-old single mother, from Kuala Terengganu (KT), had pleaded guilty to prostituting herself. She had been arrested during a raid by the state’s religious affairs department, on a hotel, in KT, on the night of 17 September.
Having pleaded guilty to the charge, under Section 25 of the Syariah Offences Enactment (Takzir) 2001, she may be jailed for up to three years, fined RM5,000 and whipped six times. Her sentence will be decided on 27 September.
She said she would be unable to pay the fine, because her husband had failed to pay any alimony.
This woman’s story is repeated across the length and breadth of Malaysia. It is something which affects single mothers from all walks of life. Not just the poor, but also the rich. The syariah courts are very lax when it comes to enforcement. How will a mother cope, when she has children under her care? It is a sad fact that many resort to prostitution to pay the bills, and feed the children. What would you have done? In some cases society looks down on these women, because they are considered failures, as their husbands have abandoned them. Why are women conveniently made the scapegoat?
One single mother’s story
If you ask any single mother about the prospect of attending the syariah courts to fight her case, you will hear a depressing story.
One women confided that she tried to divorce her husband, after he committed adultery, but he refused to divorce her. He disappeared, and she suspected he had returned to his parents, but they were unwilling to disclose his whereabouts, as they realised that she wanted to serve the court papers on him.
She tried to apply for a divorce, but the court kept postponing the trial, because the former husband refused to turn up. She said, “I had to pay the lawyer to attend. It cost me money, as I had to travel to the court. I had to pay a child-minder, as I did not know when the case would end.
“I took time off work, but after several unproductive court appearances, to which my former husband failed to appear, my employer told me to look for another job. It disrupted his company schedule as he had to find temporary staff to fill in for me, whilst I went to court.
“My lawyer told the court that my former husband refused to attend, and so they asked the police to help locate him, and arrest him if he failed to appear in court. When I went to court four weeks later, the court had failed to inform the police, and so they had not brought him to court. So, a new date had to be set.
“I could not take this anymore. I had waited several months for something to happen. Some of my friends said that it had taken several years to finalise a divorce, by which time the husband claimed that he could not afford to pay for the children.
“I paid the lawyers as they were demanding payment. I was also out of pocket and could not afford to waste any more time chasing the syariah court to act.”
Today, we wonder why some single mothers prostitute themselves.
The men (who decide the syariah rules) are quick to punish the women
The syariah courts are quick to punish the women, but slow to make the man pay alimony.
Society has failed them. Instead of whipping the syariah courts into shape, we whip a poor woman, who was only trying to survive. The men escape scot-free; the unfaithful and irresponsible husband, as well as the man who solicited sexual favours.
Shame on us and shame on the syariah courts!