Fahd Rasool last saw his two children in December 2009. His wife then left the country without letting him know, and took their two children with her.
Two years, an order by the Sindh High Court and an Interpol red warrant later, Rasool is no closer to meeting his children.
They may be few, but desperate fathers like Rasool exist, who are attempting to gain custody of their children who their mothers have taken abroad.
While this is generally a practice associated with men: to take the children and leave the country, in some cases it is the other way around.
“She has no right to steal away my children and live in a distant country,” says a distressed Rasool as he talks about his wife. “For the first six months after they left, I was so disturbed that I thought I would shoot myself. I still cry my heart out every night,” he said. At Rasool’s house in DHA, his basement is packed with his children’s cot, their stuffed toys, and an indoor slide for his daughter.
Rasool says his marriage fell apart after a year. His wife packed her bags and left with the children. Her father, a former parliamentarian, pressurised Rasool to take back the custody cases. When he refused to, five First Information Reports (FIRs) were lodged against Rasool, his house was attacked by a grenade and he was left in the custody of the police.
The police cleared Rasool of the charges. The IG Police apologised in court earlier this year and said that the falsified cases were because of the politician’s influence.
Shafqat, an investment banker, has a similar saga. After his marriage ended, he was barred from meeting his child and finally learnt that his ex-wife and daughter have left the country.
He has written letters to the chief justice, stating that he is ready to beg on his knees for his daughter.
“I have not seen my daughter for three years. I don’t know which school she goes to. I don’t know how she spends her day,” he said.
There has been progress in Shafqat’s case as he has received a letter from the Supreme Court’s human rights cell, and will appear in the high court this month.
“I know that in most cases it is the woman whose children have been kidnapped. But in some instances, men also end up getting separated from their children,” he said. “After the divorce, when I used to meet my daughter for an hour after two weeks, I had to start from scratch. I had to become a father from a stranger. Now it has been months since she last saw me.”
Shafqat said that his wife’s lawyer withdrew his waqalat nama when she fled to the US with her parents and they have no lawyer at the moment.
Lawyer Rajendar Kumar, who fights custody cases, said, “If parents understood how disturbing it is for the child, they would not fight, and let the other parent meet the child.” Taranum Khan of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says it is a violation of human rights if children are not allowed to meet either parent. “A father has as much right over a child as the mother does. If the child is not allowed to meet the father, he would end up disliking and distrusting his father.”
This is what Rasool and Shafqat fear. “I cannot let my children grow up without knowing me. They should live in the same place so I can meet and spend time with them whenever I want to. I will fight for them,” said Rasool.
It’s all legal
Around 20 custody cases on similar grounds that were challenged in the Supreme Court and Sindh High Court were decided in the father’s favour.
Under Muslim law, while the mother has a right to custody until the child reaches a certain age, the father is the natural guardian and is entitled to exercise control and supervision over the child. If the mother removes the child to a place where the father is unable to exercise his control, the mother loses her right to custody.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 17th, 2012.