Forced Marriage Overseas: Dubai
Individuals from the United States will likely face substantial challenges trying to avoid and/or escape forced marriage in Dubai. Dubai is part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is a small country in the Arabian Peninsula comprised of seven Emirates. Dubai is the second-largest Emirate by land, but is the largest city in the UAE.1 Despite the steps the UAE has taken toward gender equality and child protection, women remain second-class citizens. The concept of “male guardianship” continues to deny women the right to make autonomous decisions about marriage and many other aspects of their personal life.2
For further information and guidance for individuals from the U.S. that are facing or fleeing a forced marriage in Dubai, please contact the Forced Marriage Initiative.
Marriage in Dubai
The UAE’s Sharia-based Federal Personal Status Law covers marriage and divorce. The use of Sharia-based interpretation of family law issues is mandated by the UAE and the Personal Status Law applies to both Emiratis and non-Emiratis in Dubai.3 Under this legal regime, women and girls have severely limited rights when entering or attempting to dissolve a marriage.
Under UAE Sharia law, marriage is the legal requirement through which a couple can establish a relationship, cohabitate and have children together. This applies to all couples living in the UAE.4 Dubai men and women are not permitted to date or establish relationships outside of marriage. Unmarried pregnant noncitizens are given the option of marrying the father or leaving the country before they are arrested for fornication.5
In traditional Emirati culture, both men and women are married at a young age and marriages are arranged by family members, typically fathers. First cousins ideally would marry and reside in the husband’s extended family home. When a marriage has been arranged and a dowry determined, a marriage contract is signed. Most marriages in the UAE continue to be traditional.6
The official minimum age of marriage in Dubai is 18. However, women and men under age 18 can get married with approval from the Chief Justice of the Personal Status Court. Women may only be married with permission of their father or closest male relative (for example, a son or a brother). While forced marriages occur in the UAE, there is insufficient data available to illustrate their prevalence and there is concern that child marriage remains widespread in the UAE. Despite the lack of accurate and recent data,7 the age of consent remains much disputed since, according to Sharia law, the ability to consent to marriage is achieved at puberty.8
In addition, while it is possible to obtain an annulment, lack of consent, force or fraud are not considered grounds for annulment9 and there are very few options available to women who want a divorce. In accordance with divorce laws in the UAE, a Muslim husband can divorce his wife by simply saying ‘I divorce thee’ but a woman cannot do the same. She must apply for a court order, which may be granted only on extremely limited grounds10 and only after obtaining federally mandated “guidance” and “arbitration”.11
Potential Risks and Protections in Country
Given the restrictions on female autonomy in Dubai, women and girls have very little control over whether, when and whom they marry.
The UAE has no specific law on domestic violence and women are generally reluctant to report their experiences of violence to the authorities. When women do report such experiences, the police often do not intervene or properly investigate. Such incidents are considered private domestic matters12 and violence is often viewed as a justifiable response to a wife’s “misbehaviour”.13 Additionally, the UAE’s Personal Status Law obligates women to “obey” their husbands.
Marital rape is not recognized as a criminal offence in Dubai and most victims do not report such crime as they fear being accused of adultery — a crime which can be punished by flogging and death by stoning — or because shame would be brought on their families.14 Laws in the UAE also make it difficult for women who are sexually assaulted or subjected to rape to report these crimes as reporting may lead to their prosecution on charges of sexual relations outside of marriage.15
The UAE does not automatically recognize or enforce foreign family court orders and child custody laws in the UAE are extremely unfavorable to women.16
Overall, the rights of women in Dubai are severely limited and options for protection from forced and child marriage and other forms of abuse are inadequate to non-existent.
Special Challenges in Returning to the United States
Women and girls from the United States attempting to exit Dubai will likely face significant hurdles. According to Article 29 of the UAE Constitution, women must have the authorization of their male guardians to travel abroad. An Emirati man has the right to seize the passports of his wife, minor children and unmarried adult daughters and can request that immigration authorities prohibit their departure out of the UAE.17
Although foreign women technically fall outside the purview of Article 29, it is likely that they would still be subject to UAE laws that restrict the free movement of women and children when family law matters are involved.18 Please check the exit requirements for Dubai for the most up-to-date travel information.
Assistance for Individuals from the United States
- The Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative
We are available to help individuals from the United States who are facing or fleeing forced marriage in Dubai, including providing phone, text, and email support, connecting with the U.S. government and local resources, and coordinating shelter and services back in the United States.
- The U.S. State Department
The State Department is available to assist U.S. citizens who are victims of forced marriage with replacement of travel documents and return travel to the United States. For updated information and travel alerts, please visit the department’s webpage on international travel in Dubai.
- U.S. Consulate General Dubai
Contact the Consulate in the case of an emergency.
1 United Arab Emirates Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation, About UAE, available at http://mofa.gov.ae/EN/TheUAE/Pages/About-UAE.aspx
2 Rothna Begum, Time to Take Action for Women in the United Arab Emirates, Human Rights Watch, (March 8, 2015), available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/03/08/time-take-action-women-united-arab-emirates
3 Diana Hamadé AlGhurair, Family law in the United Arab Emirates: overview, International Advocate Legal Services, (May 1, 2015), available at https://content.next.westlaw.com/4-612-5426?transitionType=Default&contextData=(sc.Default)&__lrTS=20170810145100843&firstPage=true
4 Government of Dubai, Procedures for marriage of Muslims and Non-Muslims in Dubai, available at http://dubai.ae/en/Lists/Articles/DispForm.aspx?ID=23&category=Citizens
5 Freedom House, Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa – United Arab Emirates, (October 14, 2005), available at http://www.refworld.org/docid/47387b71c.html
6 Nicole Bromfield, Interviews with divorced women from the United Arab Emirates: a rare glimpse into lived experiences, Families, Relationships and Societies, vol 3, no 3, 339–54, (2014), available at http://www.academia.edu/5380670/Interviews_with_divorced_women_from_the_United_Arab _Emirates_a_rare_glimpse_into_live d_experiences
7 Humanium, Children of United Arab Emirates – Realizing Children’s Rights in United Arab Emirates, available at http://www.humanium.org/en/middle-east-north-africa/united-arab-emirates/
8 Government of Dubai, Procedures for marriage of Muslims and Non-Muslims in Dubai, available at http://dubai.ae/en/Lists/Articles/DispForm.aspx?ID=23&category=Citizens
9 Dubai Courts, Personal Status Attestations, Edition 2011, available at http://www.dubaicourts.gov.ae/jimage/uploads/manual/e23.pdf
10 UAE Personal Status Law, 2005, Article 100
11 Diana Hamadé AlGhurair, Family law in the United Arab Emirates: overview, International Advocate Legal Services, (May 1, 2015), available at https://content.next.westlaw.com/4-612-5426?transitionType=Default&contextData=(sc.Default)&__lrTS=20170810145100843&firstPage=true
12 Human Rights Watch, UAE: Weak Protection Against Domestic Violence, (August 4, 2014), available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/08/04/uae-weak-protection-against-domestic-violence
13 Nicole Bromfield, Interviews with divorced women from the United Arab Emirates: a rare glimpse into lived experiences, Families, Relationships and Societies, vol 3, no 3, 339–54, (2014), available at http://www.academia.edu/5380670/Interviews_with_divorced_women_from_the_United_Arab _Emirates_a_rare_glimpse_into_live d_experiences
14 International Federation for Human Rights, Women’s Rights in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) , available at https://www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/UAE_summaryreport_for_CEDAW.pdf/
15 Human Rights Watch, Time to Take Action for Women in the United Arab Emirates, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/03/08/time-take-action-women-united-arab-emirates
16 UAE Personal Status Law, 2005, Article 145
17 International Federation for Human Rights, Women’s Rights in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) , available at https://www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/UAE_summaryreport_for_CEDAW.pdf/
18 Personal Status Law, available at https://legaladviceme.com/legislation/140/uae-federal-law-5-of-1985-on-civil-transactions-law-of-united-arab-emirates