This week an Ethiopian maid appeared before prosecutors with her legs in chains as a prison officer carried her 10-day-old baby, Maryam, pictured.
The woman’s Somali employer had contacted police after discovering the unmarried maid was pregnant. The child’s alleged father, a Bangladeshi driver, is also in jail.
In the same week, another maid allegedly had a baby in a hospital toilet, strangled her child  and dumped the body in a waste bin because she was afraid she would get in trouble. She was arrested at the hospital and her case is soon coming before the courts.
But expats must adhere to the provisions of UAE Penal Code 356, which prohibits sex outside marriage , Abu Dhabi lawyers warn. Breaking that law, says lawyer Ahmed Al Suwaidi, can result in a jail term of at least one year.
“In reality, women may serve a few months and be deported,” he added. “It is especially important not to have a baby outside of marriage. If you go to a hospital to give birth without a marriage certificate, the hospital must tell the police.”
However, in most cases, the trouble begins when an employer complains to police, who are then obliged to investigate, as happened in the case of the Ethiopian maid.
Children can be taken from the mother but it is more likely that she will get to keep the baby and the pair will be deported together.
“The big problem is the birth certificate,” Al Suwaidi said.
“No marriage certificate means the mother cannot get a birth certificate for the baby. With no birth certificate the baby cannot leave the country. This may sometimes require embassy involvement.”
Twitter and the 7DAYS facebook page were swamped with comments about the issue, several posters saying that jailing unmarried mothers will only result in more babies being abandoned. Regarding the Ethiopian maid, Lynda Gaenssler wrote: “If they have to, then deport the mother… but do it now and make sure she gets to keep her baby.”
Maryam Mudeer, from Pakistan, said she hopes that mother and daughter stay together but that both the mother and father were wrong to have sex outside marriage.
“I don’t think any religion asks you to bring a child into this world unless married,” she wrote.
“I have no problem with the laws here on out-of-marriage sex... is it now ONLY the woman’s job to raise the child alone?”
Do you think unmarried mothers should be put in prison? Is it a risk to leave the baby without a birth certificate? Tell us what you think below.