The fate of five-year-old Lama is a hot topic in Saudi Arabia and beyond. Lama’s father, Fayhan Ghamdi, allegedly molested and abused her, resulting in Lama’s death after months of hospitalization.
Now her case has fired up debate on social media. Who is responsible for this terrible turn of events? The justice system, child protection agencies, or the culture at large? Or is it just a case of Saudi bashing, as some claim? RNW asked two prominent bloggers for their opinion: journalist Turki Al-Dakheel and Eman Nafjan, who has been following Lama’s case closely on her blog ‘Saudi Woman’.
Several media have reported that Lama’s father was released from custody after paying the mother blood money. Do you think there’s any truth to this?
Eman: No, those reports are all false. He’s still in jail, but the judge did tell the mother that she is only entitled to blood money.
Turki: The case is still in court.
If he did kill his daughter, what punishment does the father deserve?
E: He deserves a harsh punishment—ask the mother.
Lama’s mother, in conversation with RNW: “He deserves being put through the same experience his daughter went through—both him and his second wife.”
T: There are people who argue that a father should not be punished for harming a child. I am not sure what the sharia states on this issue, but I believe all murder is sin. The perpetrator should be punished. The fact that he is the father does not give him the right to abuse his son or daughter.
But a hadith (the sayings and traditions of the prophet Mohammed, one of the sources on which sharia is based) states, “A father shall not be killed for killing his son.”
E: Yes, they have applied this hadith in this case, and in many others. With the exception of one case, no father has ever received a heavy punishment for the abuse of his child. That same hadith is applied to cases that involve husband and wives; even in a case in which a man slit his wife’s throat, he only received a five-year sentence.
T: Ask a judge.
Judge and Shoura Council member dr. Aissa Al-Ghaith, in conversation with RNW: “According to sharia, a father or mother cannot receive a death sentence (qasaas) for killing his or her child. But the state is allowed to deliver such a sentence (ta3zir). A precedent exists of such a case, in which a husband and wife abused the child of the man’s first wife, resulting in the death of the child.
How unambiguous is the law on such matters?
E: No codification of laws exists, and precedents are of no concern. The judge can decide however he sees fit. In reality, the interests of the man always take precedence. The court’s decision can differ from one abaya to the other, and from one judge to the other. Or it depends on my last name, or whether I am Saudi or Pakistani.
Dr. Aissa Al-Ghaith: “What Eman claims, is not true. There is no hadith forbidding a father or mother from being punished for abusing their children, nor does the situation she describes exist. These are very rare cases which are perfectly solved in a judicial procedure in the national courts. The Saudi law applies the Islamic Sharia, which is a law that has existed for centuries and finds its sources in the Holy Quran and prophet Mohammed’s sayings and traditions. It applies to all Muslims, not to a specific state or people.”
Is this case indicative of a larger problem?
E: We have no system for child protection. In theory a protocol does exist, but it is never applied. If a fifteen-year old girl would report her father to the local police office for hitting her, the response would largely be: “How dare you complain about your father.” By the way—this is not an issue of “men against women” per se; there are plenty of women who would choose the father’s or brother’s side. That’s the general mentality.
T: A year ago, a special hotline was set up that people can call to report child abuse. Part of the problem is that existing laws are not enacted. But there is so much more that we can do, as I wrote in reference to this case in the Al-Riadh newspaper: “But even the laws and systems that are already written need to be developed and supported by more rigorous means, such as taking the guardianship from the father and appointing a more suitable guardian for the child or girl, this is a very important step so that children are not a toy in the hands of their parents.”