“I am grieving for my living kids.” – Jolly Bimbachi
When Jolly Bimbachi, mother of three kids, agreed that her then-husband take their two little sons for a trip to Lebanon, she didn’t think it was the last time she would see them.
But it has been over 5 years, and she has only seen her two young boys once since they were abducted by their father.
At the time, Abdel-Ghani and Omar Ahmad were 4 and 6 years old. They were living in Canada happily with their mother, father, and older sister.
When their paternal grandmother fell into depression for serious family matters, Jolly thought it would be a good idea to have the kids visit her in Lebanon to relieve some of her pain.
“I loved his family like my own. I had no reason to suspect that [my boys] would not return.”
However, shortly after arriving in Lebanon, her now ex-husband called her to say that the only way she’ll ever see her boys again was if she moved to Lebanon, where he said she was not allowed to work nor leave the house without him.
Soon, she also found out that he had stolen all her life’s savings as well as her gold jewelry.
“The law in Lebanon does not recognize parental abductions as a crime and that is why people who commit these criminal acts can get away with it,” Jolly told The961. “The Lebanese law views this situation as a family matter and asks that the families work it out.”
However, she says, her ex-husband does not even open the space for a discussion.
“He has left me alienated from the kids, and because I was married in the Sunni court, I have to be judged under Sunni law,” she said and added that since she is not living in Lebanon, she doesn’t have rights to her children.
Struggles With A Lawyer
She quickly hired a lawyer named Chawkat Houalla, but claims that he lied to her and led her to give up her children.
Jolly cannot read Arabic. The lawyer had her sign translated documents, convincing her that she was just giving up spousal support and child support to show the courts in Lebanon that she’s not after money but only wants her children back.
Apparently, once that was done and she paid the lawyer, he let her down. “That lawyer got his money and I never heard from him again,” she said.
When she hired another lawyer, they found out that her previous lawyer did not do anything – not even finalize the divorce. Instead, he made her sign a document giving up her rights to her children.
“That part was not translated to me. I would have never signed it and I would never give up the rights to my own children. That document caused me to lose the case, but we will appeal the decision of the courts.”
“But because this is in Lebanon, there is no accountability, and I cannot file anything against the previous lawyer. In total, I have spent over $25,000 in lawyer fees and have gotten nowhere,” she told The961.
“My ex-husband has full control of my children and makes all the decisions. I have no say in anything,” Jolly told us. “My rights as their mother have been stripped away, voided, and this has made me feel like they were not just kidnapped by their father, but by the whole country.”
“I am upset and extremely sad. Everything in my body hurts and the pain is never-ending. The sea without salt is no longer called the sea, therefore, what do you call a mother without her children. I am nothing,” she expressed.
Unbearable Pain & Getting Detained in Syria
As the pain became unbearable, Jolly made an attempt to retrieve her children on her own in 2017. She traveled to Lebanon, followed by her Canadian friend, Sean Moore, to try and bring her children back to Canada through Syria, where they ended up getting caught by an al-Qaeda-affiliate, Tahrir al-Sam (HTS)!
Jolly said the whole ordeal left them traumatized. Her children ended up being sent back to their father and she and Moore were sent back to Canada.
Her story was even featured on Canada’s CBC News.
“My boys are growing without me in a country with no financial stability in a household with no routine, and in a society which does not acknowledge the need for a nurturing mother,” said Jolly.
“I am a strong supporter of co-parenting and believe that it is the right of each child to have access to each parent. We both brought these kids into the world. They were conceived out of love,” she added.
“We both should be raising them regardless if we are together. I didn’t give birth to my children to not be able to raise them.”
Unfortunately, this is one of many similar cases…
Since speaking out about her children’s abduction, Jolly has met many mothers who are going through the same ordeal, many of whom are still making headlines in Canada.
For instance, Khawla Khalifa, a mother of three, has been separated from two of her children, after their father illegally smuggled them to Lebanon almost 2 years ago, according to her.
Canada has since issued an arrest warrant in his name (Achraf Fawzi Zeidan), however, Lebanon does not have an extradition treaty with Canada.
By legal terms, Khawla has full custody of her children and a return order in the Lebanese Civil Court. Despite this, her children, who only hold Canadian citizenship are still stuck in Lebanon.
What’s worse is that her daughter, aged 6, had been diagnosed with a brain tumor since she was at the age of 1. In Canada, she was being treated at one of the leading cancer hospitals in the world, but now in Lebanon, “who knows who is looking after her tumor,” Khawla told The961.
Her son who remained with her is now 4 years old. Her daughter and other son who were taken to Lebanon are 6 and 9 respectively.
Another similar painful story is that of Rakia Melham, a mother of three, who was faced with serious marital problems – with the children being at the center.
Today, she has no idea where her ex-husband is keeping her children and has only been able to speak to them a couple of times on the phone. She is currently in Canada, working multiple jobs to afford a lawyer in Lebanon.
These are just some experiences of many other parents who are going through the same thing. Unfortunately, the law in Lebanon seems to be of no help.
Another similar case is the story of Shelley Beyak who took to the news after the Beirut Port explosion pleading for proof that her two children Liam and Mia are safe, as the father wouldn’t answer her calls to reassure her:
Global Affairs Canada runs a Vulnerable Children’s Consular Unit to help Canadians when another parent takes their child or children out of the country without permission.
While “close to 100 countries have signed on to the 1980 Hague Convention, a multilateral pact that has carved out a path to handle cases of child abduction,” Lebanon is not among them.
Speaking up about her struggles, Jolly Bimbachi, who herself has reached out to The961 with her story, hopes to shed light and bring on a change in the way the law deals with these cases. “We need treaties between Canada and Lebanon to protect the rights of children,” she stated.
“The Lebanese and Canadian governments should come to a consensus and an agreement to prevent international parental child kidnappings from continuing to happen.”
“So many families have been torn apart due to this horrendous act. One parent becomes so selfish that they cannot see that their own children deserve the love of both their parents.”
“Separating children from a loving parent should be regarded as child abuse as the psychological, emotional, and mental effects are devastating and continuous through the child(ren)’s growth,” concluded Jolly.
Unfortunately, the long-existing gender-discriminatory laws in family affairs and divorces in Lebanon keep claiming victims to-date.
Mothers in Lebanon as well see themselves deprived of their precious children for the benefit of the father or a male figure from the father’s side.
Lebanese society has witnessed for decades heartbreaking stories, some that are even inhuman, to say the least, like in the case of the Lebanese mother who wasn’t even allowed to visit her deceased daughter’s grave.
That she had to “break the law” to sneak into the graveyard, or that another mother had to go into a hunger strike to be allowed to see her kids, reflects how absurd let alone inhuman these laws are.
How could any law possibly justify inhuman tragedies it inflicts and how could we still stand idle as so many tragic family stories continue to emerge?
In a country where society is traditionally family-oriented, where the role of mothers is deemed sacred, it is unfathomable to any sane mind that those assuming that role are not deemed of value by the laws.
We ought to agree that changes have become not just necessary but a must for the New Lebanon we’re all hoping for and for which many are protesting.
That has to start with the basics that reflect our humanity, laws that must serve without gender prejudice, and where justice shouldn’t only be impartial but also reflect human compassion and abstain from contradicting our family-oriented values.
These values essentially deem mothers the beating heart of the family, while court orders in many cases of divorce punish them as if criminals, depriving them of their kids and, consequently, punish the kids by depriving them of their own mothers.