NEW YORK (August 23, 2022) – The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) calls on Saudi Arabia to repeal its oppressive male guardianship laws and to allow women to exercise basic civil rights without the permission of their male guardians. HRF received a report detailing the case of an American woman, Carly Morris, who has been trapped in Saudi Arabia with her daughter Tala for three years. Morris and her child are facing homelessness in the coming days and have no source of food or income.
Born to a Saudi father in the United States, nine-year-old Tala is involuntarily subject to the male guardianship system while on Saudi soil, which entrusts all critical decisions to her father’s discretion. Until she reaches 21 years of age, Tala will not be able to exit the country without her father’s permission. The Saudi and U.S. governments have reportedly failed to intervene and provide adequate support.
“Carly and Tala’s case is sadly not an isolated one; there are countless other women and children stuck in similarly degrading circumstances in Saudi Arabia,” said HRF Senior Fellow Bethany AlHaidari, who was also trapped in Saudi Arabia with her daughter. “The Saudi Arabian regime’s archaic and discriminatory male guardianship and kafala laws are largely to blame for enabling men to entrap, abuse, and kidnap children with impunity,” said AlHaidari.
In the summer of 2019, Morris’ ex-husband lured her and Tala to Saudi Arabia under the pretense that the trip would be “no longer than 30 days.” The Saudi Arabian Embassy in the U.S. issued the child a laissez-passer, a temporary travel document to permit the child to enter the country with her father. Tala only held U.S. citizenship at the time. Laissez-passers have been used in multiple cases to kidnap American children — including those of Jessica Socling and Madonna Saad. Due to the prevalence of this issue, the U.S. Congress investigated the abductions of American children to Saudi Arabia in 2002. However, 20 years later, the situation remains dire.
Since Morris and her child’s arrival in Saudi Arabia, her former spouse has refused to permit them to exit the country. Morris’ tourist visa has expired, rendering her out of status and unable to work, receive medical care, or file lawsuits. When Morris reported her plight, Saudi authorities told her that “fathers cannot kidnap their children.” For three years, she has not been able to get her daughter medical treatment or enroll her in school.
Morris’ mother, Denise White, lives in San Diego, California, where she has anxiously awaited their return for three years. White told HRF, “It’s just so hard and so frustrating to feel like my hands are tied and I can’t help my daughter or granddaughter. I have to call on her multiple times a day just to make sure that they are safe. We have Tala’s room here set up for her; we have been waiting for them to come home.” White shared that her daughter said “several other foreign women and children were trapped in Saudi Arabia, fighting to get home.” Morris’ mother called on the U.S. government to “protect our citizens.”
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