The Children of Libyan Women Married to Foreigners: Lost Identity and Rights

Published: 8/Août/2016
Source: Legal Agenda

By Jazya Gebril


It has become commonplace to see Libyan women married to foreigners participate actively in political and academic meetings in Benghazi that concern their issue.[1] They represent a diverse cross-section of Libyan women: they hail from several cities, they range in age from their twenties to their sixties, and some work while others do not. But their common denominator is the heavy burden imposed upon them by the discrimination against them and their children. One woman complains that her daughter’s excellent secondary school results were a curse, for she then faced the legal reality that only Libyan citizens can enroll in medicine faculties. Another woman cries in anguish when she recalls her martyred son’s words: “I will die to defend the country, mother.” “What kind of country refuses to grant the family of a martyr born to a Libyan woman the same privileges that it grants to a martyr born to a Libyan man?”, she wonders. “Even I –a Libyan citizen– have not been granted the privilege of pilgrimage that is [usually] granted to a martyr’s mother because my son, who died for Libya, is considered a foreigner.”

The phenomenon of Libyan women marrying foreigners appeared with the growth of migrant labor from Arab countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Palestine, Syria, and even Chad and Sudan. These marriages produced offspring who were born in Libya to Libyan women, who reside in Libya yet denied the right to citizenship. Subsequently, the families concerned are demanding that these offspring be granted Libyan citizenship. They see it as their inherent right stipulated in the international agreements and conventions that the Libyan state has signed and is obliged to implement.

Tribal Framework as an Obstacle to Imparting Libyan Citizenship to Children of Libyan Mothers?

One of the main causes of the reluctance to grant citizenship in Libya is tribal relations. The tribe remains an omnipresent social framework. Within this framework, a woman who marries outside of the tribe leaves the tribe and joins that of her husband. The original tribe then denies the women her right to inheritance, lest her foreign husband take ownership of the family or tribe’s lands and farms. The comprehensive values survey conducted in Libya in 2013 clearly reveals that the issue is altogether more cultural and social than political, legal, or even religious. The overwhelming majority of Libyans trust family members, and a large majority trust personal acquaintances. Conversely, a large majority do not trust people who have a different religion or speak a different language, people who they are meeting for the first time, or people of other nationalities.[2]

Some Eastern Libyan tribes take pride in women, for some of their families –such as the Ruqayya, Bujamila, and Mary families– are named after them. However, these families belong to the tribe via a father who married multiple women, and his children were surnamed after their mothers to distinguish them from one another. This further suggests that that the backdrop of discrimination against women stems primarily from wariness of the “other”, or the “outsider” to which Libyan citizens are predisposed. The main causes of this wariness include concern for wealth, and a fear of creating an imbalance in the demographic makeup, especially in the southern regions.

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Themes: Discrimination, Sexuelle, Ethnique/Raciale/Religieuse
Regions: Libye
Year: 2016