- Bethany Vierra has been trapped in Saudi Arabia with her 4-year-old daughter ever since divorcing her husband a year ago, due to the country’s strict guardianship laws.
- Though they are no longer married, Vierra’s husband is both her and her daughter’s legal guardian.
- Her cousin Nicole Carroll recently detailed the situation to The New York Times in hopes of helping her cousin find a way out of the country with her daughter.
An American woman and her 4-year-old daughter have reportedly been trapped in Saudi Arabia thanks to the country’s laws that give her ex-husband the power to bar her from returning to the US.
Bethany Vierra’s cousin Nicole Carroll detailed the nightmare situation in a story published in The New York Times on Tuesday.
Carroll told the paper her cousin moved to Saudi Arabia in 2011 to teach at a women’s university while studying for her graduate degree, but she started to plant roots in the country when she met and fell in love with a Saudi man (Carroll asked The Times not to publish his name, out of fear of provoking his family).
The couple married in 2013 and welcomed a daughter named Zaina soon after. But Carroll said the relationship eventually broke down, with Vierra reportedly saying her husband often lost his temper and swore in front of their daughter.
She asked for a divorce, which men can grant simply by speaking a few words, but he refused to do so for more than a year. So last year, Vierra reportedly petitioned a Saudi court to cancel her marriage based on her husband’s emotional and verbal abuse. At the court hearing, her husband accused her of lying and said he had divorced her more than six months prior, which was all the judge needed to hear, according to The Times.
But even after their divorce, Vierra’s ex-husband maintained a parental-like control over her, thanks to the country’s so-called guardianship laws.
In Saudi Arabia, each woman has a male guardian (a husband, father, uncle, son, etc.) who must give permission in order for her to get a passport or travel through a government app called Absher.
Carroll told The Times her cousin wanted to fly home to Washington state with their daughter to spend Christmas with her family, but her husband refused to let her leave.
Then last month, he let her residency expire, making her an illegal alien in Saudi Arabia, Carroll said. With no residency, Vierra can’t access to her bank account, according to The Times.
While there is a new Saudi law that would allow her to get residency as the parent of a Saudi citizen, only her husband has the power to get the documents needed to apply for that status, and Carroll told The Times he has refused to do so.
There’s also the issue of her daughter Zaina’s dual Saudi Arabian-American citizenship. Because Saudi Arabia only recognises her as Saudi, she would need to get her father’s permission to leave the country. That means that even if her mother finds a way to leave, Zaina will likely have to stay behind, Carroll said.
Carroll said the family has decided to go public with Vierra’s story because they believe they have run out of options and hope that speaking out will encourage someone to help her and her daughter. They also want to shed light on what they believe is “an unfair system.”
“She is completely stuck,” Carroll told The Times. “She is out of options.”
- Read more:
- ‘Grotesque’: Marco Rubio leads intense criticism of Google for refusing to pull down Saudi government app that lets men track and control women
- A viral Saudi Arabian campaign is trying to defend the kingdom’s app that lets men track women and control where they travel
- Apple and Google accused of helping ‘enforce gender apartheid’ by hosting Saudi government app that tracks women and stops them leaving the country
- When women got the right to vote in 25 places around the world
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