Skip to main site content.
(Amal pour la Famille et l'enfant/Facebook)


Unmarried mothers in Tunisia endure social stigma, legal disenfranchisement

By WITW Staff on May 10, 2017

According to human rights group Freedom House, Tunisia is the only full democracy in the Arab world, and women there “enjoy more social freedoms and legal rights than in most other countries in the region.” Tunisia, a country which is approximately 99 percent Muslim, has outlawed polygamy and given women the right to vote, divorce, and even to have abortions. For unmarried mothers, however, legal and social taboos leave them almost entirely dependent on the father of their child — even in the cases of women who have been raped.

“They’re not seen as a human being like everyone else,” said Rebah ben Chaaben, a psychologist at Amal, Tunisia’s only clinic dedicated to the legal, social, and mental health issues that afflict the country’s unmarried mothers. Pre-marital sex is forbidden by Islam, and unmarried mothers face the stigma of dishonor — even, or especially, from their families. According to French NGO Santé Sud, more than half of unmarried mothers will abandon their children.

Fatma, a woman born into a farming family, said that she was sent to a hospital in Tunis by her mother after she was raped by a member of her extended family. When Fatma refused to abandon the resulting child, her mother banished her from her house. Her attacker, on the other hand, still lives in the village and has faced no consequences from the family.

In addition to suffering social stigma, unmarried mothers are rendered legally powerless by a system that distinguishes between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” children. Since only men can be awarded legal guardianship in Tunisia, unmarried women cannot even have legal authority over their own children. Children born out of wedlock are effectively deprived of their heritage rights — unless, of course, they receive recognition from their father.

For many, the only recourse is a 1998 “patronymic name law” that permits women to conduct DNA tests to prove paternity. The measure is double-edged, however — if enacted, an absent or unwanted father can be granted immense legal control over their child’s life.

Read the full story at The Guardian.


As femicide rates spike, mother of murdered beauty queen says ‘women aren’t worth anything’ in Honduras

Moldovan presidential candidate’s unmarried status draws ire of politicians, religious figures

Indian village bans girls and unmarried women from cell phone use