March 13, 2018 12:26:22by

Divorced Saudi mothers win right to retain custody of their children

Divorced Saudi mothers win right to retain custody of their children

Divorced mothers in Saudi Arabia have won the right to retain custody of their children in the kingdom's latest 'liberal' reform.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful heir to the Saudi throne, has pledged a 'moderate, open' country and is rolling out a number of social reforms.

The latest move has seen a relaxing of strict rules that heavily favour male guardianship in the event of divorce.

In the past, Saudi women were forced to launch lengthy court battles to win custody after a marriage breakdown. But the Saudi Justice Ministry has now told courts that, provided there is no dispute between parents, a mother is only required to apply for custodianship.

But while the move also allows mothers to keep their offsprings' passports, the court memo stops short of giving women the ability to leave the kingdom with their children without first getting the greenlight from a judge.

Prince Mohammed has been leading the drive to expand the role of women in recent months.

His father, King Salman, in September approved the end of a decades-long ban on driving, which goes into effect in June.

The 32-year-old prince called for a 'moderate, open' Saudi Arabia in October, breaking with ultra-conservative clerics in favour of an image catering to foreign investors and Saudi youth.

Prince Mohammed is widely seen as the chief architect behind Saudi Arabia's 'Vision 2030' reform programme, which seeks to elevate the percentage of women in the work force from 22 percent to nearly one-third.

In February, it emerged that women in Saudi Arabia were now allowed to open their own businesses without the consent of a husband or male relative.

The policy change marked a major step away from the strict guardianship system that has ruled the country for decades.

Under Saudi Arabia's guardianship system, women are required to present proof of permission from a male 'guardian' - normally the husband, father or brother - to do any government paperwork, travel or enrol in classes.

Long dependent on crude production for economic revenue, Saudi Arabia is pushing to expand the country's private sector, including an expansion of female employment under a reform plan for a post-oil era.

While women still face a host of restrictions in the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom, Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor's office this month said it would begin recruiting women investigators for the first time.

The kingdom has also opened 140 positions for women at airports and border crossings, a historic first that the government said drew 107,000 female applicants.