In the latest consolidation of new rights for women in Saudi Arabia, a judge has allowed a Saudi mother to take her children abroad with her as she joins an educational programme.
The woman, a divorced public sector employee, told the court in the Red Sea city of Jeddah that she wanted to pursue her higher education abroad, and wanted to take her children, who were in her custody, with her.
In her request, the woman explained that as the mother, she wanted to look after her children and could not leave them behind, Saudi daily Al Riyadh reported on Monday.
The judge reportedly agreed and gave her the permission to take her children with her.
Under Saudi laws, the approval of the father, considered the legal custodian, is needed before a child can leave the country.
The family and personal status of women has been changing steadily despite staunch opposition from several segments of the conservative society.
Thus, women have been able to move into areas that had been long considered the exclusive bastions of men, mainly the Consultative Council where they make up 20 per cent of the members and the elected municipal councils where they won 20 seats in the nationwide elections.
"Women now have the right to request the permission of travel for their children," Bayan Zahran, a lawyer and legal consultant, said. "Women who have the custody of children may also have the right to object to their travel with their fathers. Fathers who do not comply with the custody rules, including visits and travel, face up to three months in jail," she said, quoted by the daily.
The Jeddah judge's decision reinforces a ruling issued in January by a court in the capital Riyadh that allowed a divorced mother to take her daughter abroad with her as she was leaving Saudi Arabia to study for her PhD in the United Kingdom.
The father had petitioned against allowing his daughter to go with her mother, arguing that she would be lost growing up in a totally different culture. The father also claimed that his ex-wife would be too busy studying for her degree to look after their daughter properly.
However, the judge favoured the mother's arguments and allowed her to take her daughter with her.
By Habib Toumi
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