LONDON – A Lebanese mother and her child who fled to Britain to avoid being separated under their country's Islamic law can stay in the country, Britain's highest court ruled Wednesday.
The divorced woman, identified only as EM, sought asylum in Britain for herself and her 8-year-old son after fleeing Lebanon on false papers in December 2004. She told immigration officials her allegedly abusive ex-husband would gain custody of their child under Lebanon's Sharia law, which only allows divorced mothers custody of their children until their 7th birthday, at which point custody reverts to the father.
Her application was denied in 2005, but she appealed to the House of Lords, Britain's supreme court. In a submission to the court made in June, human rights group Liberty argued that the Lebanese law "amounts to a flagrant breach of the mother's (and child's) rights."
The court agreed, calling the woman a fugitive from Sharia law.
"It is ... the product of a religious and cultural tradition that is respected and observed throughout much of the world," James Hope, writing for the court, said in his judgment. "But by our standards the system is arbitrary because the law permits of no exceptions to its application. ... It is discriminatory too because it denies women custody of their children after they have reached the age of custodial transfer simply because they are women."
Liberty said the judgment meant the woman could now stay in Britain with her son.
Neither the woman nor her son, now 12, have been identified, out of concern for their safety.