In Kuwait, smoking can deprive a mother of her children’s custody

Wednesday 27 February 201909:57 am
A warning, dear lady: your cigarette or shisha can deprive you of your children. This is not a joke, but rather a legal issue which has in recent days provoked wide controversy in the oil-rich emirate of Kuwait, and was accompanied by warnings that smoking outdoors could provide sufficient grounds to strip mothers in the country of their custodial rights.
">Citing a judgement of the country’s courts, which declared outdoor smoking by women to be a “shameful and socially inappropriate” act, several local
">news sites and
">Twitter accounts have in recent days reported widespread warnings by Kuwaiti lawyers, which exhorted separated and divorced women to refrain from smoking publicly in cafes. They claimed that smoking outdoors effectively designates the mother as unfit for the task of raising a child, subsequently forfeiting her custodial rights.

Previous Rulings

The case of public smoking by Kuwaiti women was first raised in October 2016, when a family court ruled to remove a woman’s children from her custody because she smoked a shisha, or water pipe, outside her home. The ruling was made despite the absence of a similar precedent, legal experts noted then. The incident resulted in much debate amongst lawyers and citizens at the time, though with a shared assumption that the Appeals Court would overturn the ruling. In October 2018 however, the Court of Appeals confirmed the original ruling - denying the mother custody of the children and handing them over to their father. In its verdict, the court declared its satisfaction with “evidence” brought forward by the father, which included “photographs of the mother socialising with other men in cafes while smoking shisha.” This, compounded by evidence of her “frequent travel” led to the court declaring the mother to be incapable of providing her children with a sound upbringing.

In the wake of the ruling, rights advocates warn - whilst citizens ridicule

In the aftermath of the ruling, numerous Kuwaiti legal experts have warned that the ruling set a dangerous precedent for similar cases in the future – potentially opening a wide door permitting the removal of children from the custody of one or both parents due to smoking. Meanwhile, Kuwaiti users on social media responded to the case and the subsequent ‘warnings’ broadcast by lawyers - with most condemning the judgement and denouncing it as unjust and discriminatory, while calling for the same rule to be equally applied to fathers. While some viewed the ruling as a “
">catastrophe” and considered it a breach of personal liberty, others mocked the judgement – advising mothers to smoke their shisha indoors, and wondering what the fate of all the children with smoking parents would be. A minority however defended the decision, arguing that smoking damaged a woman’s femininity and negatively impacted her suitability for marriage, in their words, adding that the ruling simultaneously protected the health and safety of children.

Numerous cases with strange basis

According to Articles 189 and 190 of Kuwait’s Personal Status Law, custodial priority of Kuwaiti children is granted to their mothers. Custody ends at the point of a daughter’s marriage, or if a brother reaches the age of legal maturity. On the other hand, a father is unable to demand custody of his children unless he can demonstrate that the mother was unable to raise them in a healthy and moral manner. More than 2,000 lawsuits seeking to revoke a mother’s custodial rights were filed in 2015, with 300 of those cases based on evidence from social media, including photos, posts and interactions with followers, which allegedly demonstrated the woman’s “bad character” and served as evidence of their “unworthiness [of the right] to raise children”. Perhaps the most noteworthy claim which formed the basis of such a custody lawsuit was filed by a man against his divorcee, in which he said: “She drives a sports car unfit for a married woman raising children.” The text of the lawsuit, which was rejected by the court, went on to declare: “She drives her car at top speed in town. She wears short dresses, after she cut her hair short in the style of a man.” Kuwait’s courts have, however, in the
">past
">withdrawn custody because of frequent travel, while other mothers have lost custody because of their photos on social media, Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas said. Lawyers have additionally acknowledged that when presented by a husband with evidence of his wife’s smoking, or her “violation of the social framework,” Kuwaiti courts have adopted the practice of usually divorcing the woman, as well as annulling her subsequent rights as a divorcee.

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