Single mothers all alone in Lebanon legal system

Article Summary
Being a single mother in Lebanon is an emotional, cultural and legal nightmare in which many women find themselves alone without support.

“My life stopped and my world was crushed when I found out that I was pregnant. … The whole world was against me. No partner by my side to support me, no family to acknowledge me after I had brought shame to our family’s name, as they say. No friends to understand what I have been through and the major life decision I had to make.” This is how Samar H. describes the situation she found herself in a year and a half ago when she discovered that she was pregnant, after a young man she thought was her friend raped her and then traveled abroad for work and stopped returning her calls. Samar faced her parents and told them what had happened. Their first reaction was to try to call the young man and make him return to Lebanon to marry their daughter. When their attempt failed, they tried to convince her to have an abortion.

Samar refused to abort the fetus because she believes abortion to be a sin. She left her hometown and moved to a small room in one of the popular neighborhoods in Beirut. She worked as a secretary until her pregnancy started to show, which attracted the attention of her neighbors and employer.

Samar was fired, but still she refused to have an abortion. If it weren’t for the help of one of her neighbors, who supplied her with food and basic necessities, she wouldn’t have been able to deliver her baby. When Samar’s baby was born, with the help of a midwife, she knew that the hardest part had only begun. She faced a lot of difficulties in trying to register a child in her name without a male partner. Today, Samar is cooperating with a local nongovernmental organization to do so, a difficult task almost impossible to manage on her own, with costs and paperwork she would otherwise be unaware of.

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There are plenty of stories about single mothers in Lebanon, but they all have one thing in common: None of them really chose this path, unlike women in more liberal countries, where single motherhood is now a choice and a path women can take without being rejected by society. However, things are different in Lebanon. Every single mother has already lived a horrible tragedy before getting to the birth phase and raising her child alone. Stories of rape, sexual assault, incest, partners leaving and many other tragedies mean that single mothers are rejected socially and economically for something that is often not even their fault.

It all comes down to the same thing: a mother trying to support her child and register it under her name by using a fake name for the father, while the documentation will indicate “a child outside legal marriage,” dooming the mother and her child to a miserable life due to their irregular civil status.

Civil help

Given that the issue of single mothers in Lebanon is still taboo, some civil society organizations avoid providing assistance in this area to avoid being accused of helping women who become pregnant out of wedlock. However, these mothers are the most in need of help, as their families usually turn their backs on them in the name of the family honor.

There are few organizations for single mothers to turn to, and centers supported by official bodies to help them organize their affairs have yet to be established. The Maryam and Martha Organization, one of the few associations helping these women, has been receiving single mothers for many years, providing them with the support they need.

According to the center’s director, Roula Abu Diwan, the first step to help them is to try to communicate with the women’s partners in an attempt to achieve reconciliation. Should this fail, the woman can file a complaint to bind the partner to declare that the child is his. In cases where these two options fail, the organization would support the woman throughout her pregnancy until birth and the registration of the child under the mother’s name

Strenuous efforts are being made to help these women cultivate their social skills and capabilities and improve their mental states. Meanwhile, attempts are ongoing to help them reconcile with the fathers, with a focus on following up on legal and civil affairs so the mothers can support their children on their own.

One of the single women who turned to Maryam and Marta said that she wouldn’t have made it without the organization’s help. However, the biggest challenge is emerging from under the wing of the organization and getting back to everyday life with its daily hardships. Some single women have found themselves forced to claim that they are widowed or divorced to avoid being known as single mothers or to avoid having their children called "foundlings" with no fathers.

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Found in: women in society, women's issues, women's rights, lebanon, lebanese society, children
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