Condemn the United Arab Emirates for Jailing Children

Target:  Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates

Goal: End the imprisonment of children in the United Arab Emirates

Recently, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) offered a two-month amnesty period to all illegal immigrants living in the country. The immigrants are given amnesty from legal action, handed exit papers and are asked to leave. In the two month period which followed, some 61,000 people from different nationalities were issued their exit permits. However, in the case of some mothers, rather than being issued exit papers, they are arrested and charged with extra-marital sex, illegal residency after their visas expired and absconding or escaping from their sponsors. The reason for these charges has varied, but most often revolves around cases where the mothers cannot produce legal documentation for their children—often fathered by their sponsors who abandon them—because they were not born in a hospital. With seemingly nowhere to put the children, the courts have decided to place the children, with their mothers, in prison.

There is the case of mothers who were arrested when they came forward during the amnesty period like Yakub Bhi, and her nine year old daughter Mariyam. Having lived illegally in the UAE for eleven years, Yakub came forward during the amnesty expecting to be handed exit papers. However, because Mariyam had no papers, she was arrested and sentenced to five months in prison to be followed by deportation; with nowhere for Mariyam to go, she too was sent to prison to be with her mother. Then there are mothers like those of Princess, Angel, Sofia and Angel-Joy, who were arrested after a tip-off to police that they might be residing illegally. They too were arrested and sentenced to five months in prison with their children. It is a tricky situation because of UAE custody laws.

UAE custody laws allow jailed mothers custody of their children up to the age of two. However, because many illegal immigrant mothers have no family in the UAE, their children must stay in prison with them regardless of their age. It used to be the case that the children would be taken to an orphanage when their mothers were jailed. This stopped after a new wing opened at Al Wathba jail in Abu Dhabi for inmate mothers. Regardless of the dedicated wing for inmate mothers, prison is no place for a child. The UAE must take responsibility for the children whose mothers it imprisons. Sign below to show your support for state-sponsored care of children of inmate mothers and an end to imprisonment of children.


Dear Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan,

We understand that sovereign nations have every right to decide their own national laws. However, a conflict with immigration law and mother’s custody rights has created a situation where children of illegal immigrant mothers are being forcibly jailed along with their mothers. We understand that Al Wathba jail has a dedicated wing for inmate mothers, however, prison is no place for an innocent child.

In the past, children of inmate mothers with no family and nowhere to go were sent to an orphanage during their mother’s stay in prison. We believe that the state is responsible for the care of children whose mothers it imprisons. The children are not guilty of any crime and must not be punished. Please do the right thing and put an end to imprisonment of children in the UAE.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: blackandecker via Flickr

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46 Signatures

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