A mother from east London is to challenge Sharia law, after a court in Dubai awarded custody of her son Louis to her former husband.
Afsana Lachaux, 46, had previously disobeyed a court order by failing to turn up to a meeting with her ex-husband to hand over Louis for a child access meeting. She alleges she did not turn up to the meeting because her husband is violent and she has previously suffered domestic abuse – which her ex-husband strenuously denies.
However, in February she was given a suspended sentence by a court in Dubai after being found guilty of kidnapping her son, the BBC Asian Network reports.
The Foreign Office in the UK has changed its advice to British citizens in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), warning them they may face Sharia law in divorce or child custody hearings, even if they are not Muslims or married to a UAE national.
Under UAE laws, ex-pats have the right to have hearings under Islamic law, even if they are not Muslim. Mother-of-three Mrs Lachaux told the BBC that had she known that ex-pats could request divorce and child custody hearings under Sharia law, she would not have moved to the UAE with her son. Her ex-husband – 38-year-old Bruno Lachaux – is French. Their son Louis was born in Dubai and has dual Anglo-French nationality.
Mrs Lachaux has two sons by a previous marriage who are in their twenties and live in London.
“The fact that I didn’t obey my husband, that shouldn’t be a matter to condemn… it shouldn’t be a reason to take my child away from me,” she said.
BBC Asian Network – which has seen the Islamic court’s judgment against Mrs Lachaux – reports that she was branded an “unfit and un-Islamic mother” by the court in Dubai. The judgment that she was an unfit mother is based on the fact that she has friends who are gay – and because her son suffers form eczema.
Mrs Lachaux is campaigning for more support from the UK government for women like herself who have their children taken away by Islamic courts overseas.
“I can’t see my son now until he’s 18. I don’t even know if my son is dead or alive,” said Mrs Lachaux.
She alleges her former husband won custody of their son in Dubai “through false information”.
Human rights campaign group Human Rights Watch says that the authorities in the UAE are failing to respond “adequately” to reports from women of domestic violence. The organisation is calling on the UAE to recognise acts of domestic abuse as crimes.
Spokesman for Human Rights Watch Nick McGeehan said:
“First of all, it’s the duty of the UAE to investigate and prosecute instances of domestic violence.
“Secondly, it has a duty to provide women in custody hearings with a fair trial –and to ensure the decisions in those custody hearings are in the best interests of the child.
“If you don’t do the first part of that equation, it is impossible for you to do the second,” he said.
Aina Khan, Head of the Islamic Law department commented on the case:
“I urge anyone who is facing marriage difficulties abroad to get expert advice in advance, to avoid major problems. I regularly act for clients via my local lawyers in most Muslim countries – I have had successes in the UAE, Oman, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan etc. I obtain a fair solution at the earliest stage possible, often by agreement with the other side. I do this by planning the strategy right at the start (rather than reacting to the other side’s case, by which time it becomes more difficult and more expensive). Often the answer is to use psychology rather than just the law. It is never too late. Clients should ask for a Skype meeting with me to advise on the local Sharia Law.
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