The sad story of an expat mum and her baby consigned to jail because she could not afford to pay a debt has given some harrowing insight on the plight of how life can easily turn sour in the Gulf States.
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The mother, who prefers to remain anonymous, had a responsible and well-paid administration job with a major Qatari company.
Married and living with her Turkish husband, she fell pregnant, but he abandoned her and the country to return home.
In a bid to support herself, she borrowed around £8,000 from a private lender who seized her passport as security for the debt. Her plan was to start a home-based business so she could look after her child and earn some money at the same time.
Shortly after borrowing the cash, she had the baby at a private hospital in Doha.
As she could not produce a marriage certificate, the hospital staff reported her to the police and she was arrested. Having a child outside marriage is an offence in Qatar.
As she fell behind with the loan repayments, the lender also reported the debt to the police.
The result was mother and baby spent nearly a year in prison before they were transferred to a detention centre awaiting deportation.
Unfortunately, her tragic story does not end here.
Convicted expats in Qatar are generally deported after serving their sentences, but the mum still had a debt to repay.
The mother’s story started in 2010, and she is still languishing in a Qatari prison awaiting trial before she finds out whether she has to serve more jail time for breaking Qatar’s strict debt laws.
Bouncing a cheque can end up with a jail term of between three and 36 months and/or a fine.
The mother could face even more time in prison because while she has been in custody, other debts have racked up – including defaults and bounced cheques for rent and utility bills. She believes she faces up to 12 charges of bouncing cheques and defaulting on loans mainly because other creditors did not know she was in prison and reported the missed payments to the police.
She has no assets to sell to repay the money and a child who is now almost four years old who has never stepped outside a jail or detention centre.
“People must repay their debts. If they do not, the punishment is harsh to deter others from borrowing and believing they can get away without paying what they owe,” said a police spokesman.
The fate of the mother and her child remains with the courts, but she expects even more time in prison before deportation.
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