Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat- A girl who ran away from home after being assaulted by her father and stepmother and sought refuge in one of this eastern city’s safe houses is no longer welcomed by her family.
According to the fifteen-year old”s mother, Um Salman, the teenager was suffering from severe beatings which left marks on her body. “I never imagined her father could be so brutal. I thought that because she was his child and part of him, he would take of her and her younger sister and make them feel safe. Instead, he treated her very badly”.
Emotional and teary, the girl’s mother described her ordeal, “Can you believe that her father heated a knife and a spoon and then applied them to her body? She was forced to flee because of his brutality. Wandering the streets aimlessly, she met a group of young men, or perhaps one young man, I do not know, who lived in a suspect house. She stayed there but did not know anything about what went on inside. She was arrested and transferred to a safe house. Her father made excuses and refused to take her back home. He even announced he wanted nothing to do with her!”
Re-married after her divorce from the teenager’s father, Um Salman told Asharq al Awsat how she was forced to work as a servant to make ends meet. “What is the way out of this crisis?” she exclaimed. She urged the authorities to help her daughter and offer her a better future.
The specialist following the girl’s case refused to be interviewed for this article. Other psychologists spoke in general terms about children running away from home because of parental brutality. Huda al Mansour, a community worker, said divorce was one of the reasons that encouraged girls to flee as it makes the children depressed and alienated. Constant infighting between the parents, even if they remain a couple, also causes the children to feel a lack of care and affection. Worse of all was when the parents were divorced and each remarried; in many cases, girls flee their authoritarian stepmothers.
In some instances, according to al Mansour, daughters rebel against the family’s low socio-economic conditions and decide to look elsewhere in the hope the situation might improve. Girls flee their homes to rid themselves of the frustration and seldom think in advance of the dangers of being alone out on the streets.
Once away from home, the girl is facing with two pressing problems: male strangers who she fears might sexually exploit her and the police who she believes are looking to return her home.
For the most part, the future of runaway girls in Saudi Arabia is bleak; they either
become sexually deviant or join young offenders’ institutes. This was due to a lack of associations that the girls can turn to in time of need, said al Mansour. Parental ignorance and negative attitudes toward women also hinder the chances in life. In this case, the teenager was the victim of a brutal mother in-law, a violent father and a helpless mother.
Faten Abu Rashed, a community social worker at Dhahran public hospital added that teenagers need the love and affection of their mothers and even their friendship because of the emotional turmoil they undergo as a result of hormonal and physical changes between the ages of 13 and 18. During this time, girls are prone to rebel against authority and show less respect to their elders. They start to confide in the girlfriends rather than their mothers and the very shy resort to writing their thoughts on paper or on the internet. Abu Rashed stressed that a healthy mother-daughter relationship protected the young girls from being overtaken by their feelings and exploited by men.
Before leaving their home, Abu Rashed explained, the girls tend to dissociate themselves from their family prior to leaving. Many parents fail to spot the symptoms and only realize their daughters have left them when they physically leave. The girls start by creating a world of their won, through chatting on the internet or on the telephone. They exchange thoughts and intimate feelings with young men while the parents continue to believe their teenage daughters are happy and content using the latest in modern communication. Reality, however, is very different, Abu Rashed warned.
She lamented the lack of specialized safe houses that can respond to the needs of runaway teenagers as in western countries.