‘Illegitimate’ kids need support, not stigmatisation
The case of Mylene Rapada, the daughter of a Filipina mother who is searching for her Emirati father, brings attention to a stigmatised segment of society: illegitimate children. Those children are often looked down upon and treated as if guilty of some crime.
Emirati society often focuses on the parents’ sin and neglects the rights of these children, who are generally viewed in a negative way.
They are commonly perceived as uncultured, amoral and undeserving of the respect and kindness normally offered to other children. In many cases, they’re discriminated against and dealt with in a dehumanising way.
Mylene, now aged 22, claims that her mother Nora had been working as a maid for the family of her father in Madinat Zayed in the Western Region for less than a year when she became pregnant with his child.
She was told that her father wanted to marry her mother at that time but the employment agency involved advised her to leave the country, and even when he tried to find his baby daughter, he failed in his pursuit.
There are many cases of foreigners who are looking for their Emirati parents, according to legal experts. This is a reality for many children around the world who are in search for one or both of their parents in foreign countries.
Having children out of wedlock is against Muslim culture. Yet, there is no reason to believe that we can prevent such cases from happening. So the question is: how can we protect innocent children from suffering the consequences?
In Islam, children born outside of wedlock are considered to be “illegitimate” and, according to popular religious opinion, should be named after their mothers rather than their fathers.
The issue of nationality wasn’t discussed at the time of the Prophet and so it is understood today that it is up to the state to decide on this matter.
However, the Quran says that “no bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another” [39:07]. In another verse, it is mentioned: “So he who has done an atom’s weight of good shall see it. And he who has done an atom’s weight of evil shall see it” [99:07-8].
These two verses emphasise a significant Islamic concept that all people are judged by their own actions rather than the actions committed by their fathers, mothers, ancestors, or nations.
Thus, it would be both unfair and unethical to mistreat them or form an opinion of them by something they have not committed.
In addition, their social and legal rights must be protected.
At the moment, there is no official law recognising as citizens those born outside of wedlock.
And yet, following the Qurannic principle above, there is at least a case to be made that, in some circumstances, citizenship could be granted. After all, why should an innocent child be punished for the sins of the parents?
In 2009, as The National reported, the government created an ad hoc committee to conduct a global search to identify children born overseas to Emirati fathers, bring them back home if they wished and ensure their welfare.
The situation for children born of wedlock is different, of course, but there is an important principle at stake: as a small society, Emiratis look after their own.
Many mothers decide to go back to their home countries and take the full responsibility of the child, as Mylene’s mother Nora has done.
More social stigma and blame are placed on mothers, while fathers easily get away with what they have done because they don’t have to deal with pregnancy as is the case for women.
Some mothers are even forced to make the hard decision of abandoning their newborns to avoid legal consequences of having a children outside wedlock, a major sin in sharia law but one that is much harder to prove against a man than a woman.
Many of these children could grow up questioning their identity and existence if they ever got to know the full story.
Those born to poor mothers face an even harsher reality without the presence of their fathers. This is why these children need emotional support from the community to move on with their already difficult lives.
More has to be done to help these children integrate into Emirati society if they come forward and present their cases to authorities. Perhaps a permanent system could be in place to look into cases, with strict confidentiality, to determine their validity by conducting the necessary medical tests and other investigations, and, if certain circumstances are met, determine and provide them what they are due.
Regardless of the religious and legal complexities of the issue, we need to look at the situation of these children with compassion and care and view them as equal human beings who deserve dignity, respect, equal opportunities and decent lives.
On Twitter: @AyeshaAlmazroui