Abduction of American Children to Iran


Professor Gabriel Sawma


The United States severed diplomatic and consular relations with the Government of Iran on April 7, 1980 as a result of the events surrounding the seizure of our Embassy in Tehran, Iran on November 4, 1979. In April of 1980, the United States Government formally asked the Swiss Government if it would assume diplomatic and consular representation of the United States in Iran. The Swiss agreed to perform specific consular and administrative functions o behalf of the U.S. Government.

One of the major problems facing the U.S. is parental kidnapping of American children to Iran. Iran is not signatory to The Hague Convention on Child Abduction, and the Iranian government has placed strict limits on the ability of Swiss diplomats to intervene in cases involving parental kidnaping of American children to Iran. The Iranian government placed restrictions because they do not recognize the concept of dual nationality and therefore, when one parent is an Iranian citizen, consider the children involved to be Iranian citizens only. Consequently, removing kidnaped children from Iran would be considered kidnapping under Iranian law.


Fear of Potential Abduction

In many instances, the wife fears that the Iranian husband may kidnap the children to Iran without her knowledge. One of the first steps is to notify the Department of State’s Office of Legal Assistance and Citizenship Appeals at (202) 326-6178. The Office can block the issuance of a U.S. passport in the child’s name upon submission of a court order giving the wife sole custody or prohibiting the child’s departure from the U.S. without permission of the court. That office can also tell whether the spouse has already applied for and obtained a passport for the child. However, if a passport has already been issued for the child, that office cannot revoke the passport or prevent its use. For more information, see this ink: http://www.passportsusa.com/family/abduction/country/country_498.html (accessed June 3, 2016).


Iran Does Not Recognize Dual Citizenship

A child born of an Iranian father is considered Iranian citizen according to Iranian law, and could travel abroad with Iranian passport without the consent of the mother. The U.S. State Department can do nothing to prevent the issuance of an Iranian passport by the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan. The address and telephone number of the Iranian Interest Section of the Embassy of Pakistan, Tel. (202) 965-4990. See this link: http://www.daftar.org/Eng/default.asp?lang=eng  (accessed June 3, 2016).


American Women Marrying Iranian Men Need Permission to Leave Iran

American women who marry Iranian nationals, gain Iranian nationality. The woman’s U.S. passport will be confiscated by the Iranian authorities. American women may not leave the country without permission from their husbands. The U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran can provide only very little assistance if an American married to an Iranian man face marital difficulties and/or encounters difficulty in leaving Iran.


Iran Does Not Recognize U.S. Custody Orders

Custody orders issued by U.S. courts are not recognized or enforced by the government of Iran. When a child is abducted to Iran, it becomes near impossible to bring him or her back to the United States without the full support and consent of the father. All cases involving marriage, divorce, and custody of children in Iran are governed under the jurisdiction of religious courts, which do not grant custody of children to a parent who lives outside of Iran and who will not raise them within the Islamic faith.

Article 1169 of the Civil Code of Iran states that the mother has custody of a male child until he reaches the age of two, after which, custody goes to the father. As to girls, the mother retains custody of her daughter until she reaches the age of seven, after which the custody goes to the father. If the mother becomes insane or remarries another man during the time that she has custody to the children, the custody will go to the father. If the court determines that the father is unfit to raise the children, their custody may be granted to the paternal grandfather or to the mother, if the mother has not renounced her Iranian citizenship and is resident of Iran. If the court grants custody to the mother, she will need permission from the paternal grandfather or from the court to obtain exit visas for the children, under the age of eighteen, to leave the country.


The Supremacy of Islamic Law in Iran

The form of government of Iran is that of an Islamic republic, based on the “Qur’anic justice.” (Article 1 of the Iranian Constitution). The supremacy of Islamic law in Iran is confirmed in various provisions of the 1979 constitution. Article 4 states: “All civil, penal, financial, economic, administrative, cultural, military, political, and other laws and regulation must be based on Islamic criteria. This principle applies absolutely and generally to all articles of the constitution as well as to all other laws and regulations, and fuqaha’ of the Guardian Council are judges in this matter.”

This means that the family law of Iran is based strictly on Islamic Shari’a for the Muslim community in that country. It also means that Islamic Shari’a is superior to any foreign or international law, including international human rights treaties.

Article 21 of the Iranian constitution states: “The government must ensure the right of women in all respect in conformity with Islamic criteria [mawazin-e-eslami]”. This makes Islamic Shari’a superior to the freedom of women that are guaranteed by international treaties.

Under Islamic Shari’a, girls could be married off against their will by male marriage guardians. Women are required to be monogamous, whereas men are allowed to have up to four wives at a time. Wives owed obedience to their husbands, who were entitled to keep them at home and to beat them and to withhold maintenance for disobedience. Husbands could terminate marriages at their discretion simply by stating a divorce formula such as “I divorce you”, or “I divorce my wife”, or “my wife is divorced”, whereas wives needed to overcome difficult hurdle to obtain a divorce over their husband’s objections. Men have superiority over women in the area of guardianship, in which they enjoy great power as guardians over minors.

The government of Iran encourage early marriages for girls by lowering the minimum age for marriage from eighteen to nine. According to the Islamic Republic Civil Code, the legal age of marriage in Iran is thirteen years for girls and fifteen for boys. However, the Iranian parliament’s legal affairs committee made several statements arguing that the Islamic Republic is attempting to lower the girl marriage age to nine with a permission from the judge. So, even though the above-mentioned marriage is illegal based on Iran’s civil code, the religious authorities allowed it.

In the area of succession, women got one-half the share of males who inherited in a similar capacity.


Iran Did Not Ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

CEDAW, or Treaty for the Rights of women, was adopted by the United Nations in 1979, and is the most comprehensive international agreement on the basic human rights of women. The treaty provides an international standard for protecting and promoting women’s human rights and is often referred to as a “Bill of Rights” for women. It is the only international instrument that comprehensively addresses women’s rights within political, civil, cultural, economic, and social life.

Article 5 of CEDAW requires modifying social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of the sexes or stereotyped roles for men and women.

As of December 2014, 188 countries ratified CEDAW. So far Iran is not a signatory to the CEDAW due to a resistance from the Guardian Council. In 2003 the Iranian parliament ratified the treaty, but then it was vetoed by the Guardian Council.



Iran Entered Reservations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

The CRC is aimed at fostering improvement in the situation of children and protecting their interests. Upon signing the CRC, Iran had indicated that it would reserve to CRC articles and provisions “which may be contrary to the Islamic Shariah,” preserving the right to make such particular declaration upon ratification. Upon ratification on July 13, 1994, Iran entered a reservation saying:

“The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran reserves the right not to apply any provisions or articles of the Convention that are incompatible with Islamic Laws and the international legislation in effect.”

By entering reservations in this manner to CRC, Iran is left free to decide that any or all articles of the CRC should not be applied. The addition of an indication that Iran was reserving to the CRC in cases where it was incompatible with “the international legislation in effect” meant that Iran does not abide by international law but rather the Islamic documents that were put forward by the Organization of Islamic Conference and endorsed by Iran, such as the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights, which in essence subordinates international human rights to Islamic Shari’a.


DISCLAIMER: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.


Gabriel Sawma is a lawyer with Middle East background, and a recognized authority on Islamic law of marriage, divorce and custody of children, Hindu marital disputes in U.S. courts, and Iran divorce in USA.

  • Professor: Middle East Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
  • Lawyer with Middle East Background; Graduated from the Lebanese University, school of law.
  • Admitted to the Lebanese Bar Association of Beirut.
  • Practiced law in Beirut.
  • Nominated to be a judge in Lebanon, Lebanese Judicial Studies.
  • Supervised contracts in Europe and the Middle East.


  • Travelled extensively to the Middle East, including Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates.
  • Worked in Saudi Arabia.


  • Expert consultant on Islamic law.


  • Expert consultant on Islamic divorce in USA.


  • Expert consultant on mahr agreements in Islamic marriage contracts.


  • Expert consultant on Islamic finance.




Professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University

285 Madison Avenue,

Madison, NJ 07940-1099.


Taught the following courses:

  • Arabic 1001, Fall 2007, Spring 2008
  • Arabic 1002, Spring 2008
  • Arab Culture and Civilization, Fall 2009
  • Arab-Islamic Culture and Civilization, Fall 2011
  • Near East as Source of Western Culture
  • Middle East Constitutional Law – comparative study, including Islamic law of marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance


Lecturer on Islamic Finance at the University of Liverpool:


Course taught at Mercer Community College, West Windsor, New Jersey, Fall 2011.

  • Arabic 101



Professor of Arabic 101 at Princeton Adult School in Princeton, NJ (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)



Lecturer on Islamic Shari’a and its sources. See my lecture at Fairleigh Dickinson University to students and faculty:




Expert Consultant on Muslim family laws of the Middle East, Central and southeast Asia, Africa, and India.



Expert Consultant of Islamic divorce in USA, see our website at:




Featured on the BBC as, “Expert Consultant on Islamic divorce in USA.” The interview is posted on BBC’s website:




Featured on CNN as “Professor and Expert Consultant on Islamic sharia law.” The interview is posted on CNN’s website:




Editor in chief of a blog on International Law, mainly Islamic law of marriage, divorce and custody of children:





Won A Landmark Case In New York Involving Recognition of a Foreign Divorce Judgment including custody, and securing a mahr of $250,000 for the client

In 2012, the Supreme Court of Westchester County handed down a decision in favor of my client. The court recognized a divorce decree obtained from Abu Dhabi (UAE), including custody of children and recognizing a mahr agreement of $250,000. The entire court order is available on this link: http://law.justia.com/cases/new-york/other-courts/2012/2012-ny-slip-op-51875-u.html


The Appellate Division Affirms

On January 20, 2015, the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department, issued a ruling, in which the Court affirmed the decision of the lower Court. The decision of the Appellate Division is available on this link: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/courts/ad2/calendar/webcal/decisions/2016/D47647.pdf



Won A Landmark Case Involving Custody of Children

Saudi Arabia’s Shari’a Court issued a custody order against a U.S. citizen woman who was married to a Saudi husband. The husband obtained a court judgment from Saudi Arabia granting him custody of his two daughters. The Court in Allegheny, Pennsylvanian agreed with our argument that Saudi Arabia does not have jurisdiction, and the custody order violates Pennsylvania public policy and that Saydi Arabia is in violation to international human rights treaties.


The court order is not published yet, but I have a copy at request. Once published, I will post the link online. For more information on Abduction of children or fear of abduction to Muslim majority countries, please see our website at: www.gabrielsawma.blogspot.com


Author of dozens of articles dealing with Islamic divorce in USA and on International Law: Most of these articles can be found on our website at, http://www.gabrielsawma.blogspot.com


Following is a partial list of my articles on Islamic and Hindu Divorces:[1]


  • Iraqi Divorce in U.S. Courts
  • Yemeni Divorce and U.S. Immigration
  • Egyptian Divorce and U.S. Immigration
  • Palestinian Islamic Divorce of West Bank in USA
  • Saudi Divorce in USA
  • Saudi Divorce and U.S. Immigration
  • Saudi Arabian Child Custody Cases in USA
  • Pakistani Divorce and U.S. Immigration
  • Muslim Divorce in Tunisia
  • Muslim Divorce in Bangladesh
  • Marriage of Minors in Islam
  • The Iddat of a Woman in Islam
  • Muslim Men Marrying Non-Muslim Women
  • The Law of Marriage and Divorce in the United Arab Emirates
  • Islamic Syrian Divorce in USA
  • Islamic Yemeni Divorce in USA
  • Islamic Jordanian Divorce in USA
  • Recognition of Hindu Divorces in New York State
  • Islamic Divorce in New York State
  • The Khul’ Divorce in Egypt
  • Islamic Women Divorce Laws in Egypt
  • Muslim Iranian Divorce in USA
  • Pakistani Islamic Divorce in U.S. Courts
  • Islamic Lebanese Divorce in USA
  • Islamic Marriage Over the Phone, an interview with BBC, (see above)
  • Islamic Sharia in Theory and Practice, a Lecture at FDU, (see above)
  • Divorce in Egypt, an interview with CNN, (see above)
  • Annulment of Islamic Marriages
  • The Wali (guardian) in Islamic Marriages According to Hanafi Jurisprudence
  • Islamic Marriage Contracts in the Hanafi Jurisprudence
  • The Jihaz in Islamic Marriages
  • The Nafaqa in Islamic Marriage
  • The Mahr in Islamic Marriage Contracts
  • Indian Divorce in US Courts
  • Application of Islamic Sharia in US Courts
  • Abduction of children to Muslim Majority Countries
  • Abduction of American children to Saudi Arabia
  • Abduction of American Children to Jordan
  • Abduction of American Children to Iran


Wrote extensively on International law in the area of the European Union Law. Following are excerpts:




Partial List of my Articles on International Law:[2]

  • The Shebaa Farms Under International Law
  • The Nigerian Scam and its Impact on Global Economy
  • Public International Law and Organizations



Speak, read and write: Arabic, English, French, Syriac, Biblical and Talmudic Aramaic




  1. Admitted to the Lebanese Bar Association of Beirut since 1970
  2. Former Associate Member of the New York Bar Association, 1982
  3. Former Associate Member of the American Bar Association, 2003







Gabriel M. Sawma


Cell (609) 915-2237

Email: gabrielsawma@yahoo.com

Email: gabygms@gmail.com





[1] These articles are published and can be accessed on this blog.


[2] These articles can be accessed on http://www.gabrielsawma.blogspot.com


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