A mother recounts the tragic day her ex took their children away and disappeared for four long years

When I first discovered he had taken them to Jordan without my knowledge, I felt like my chest could barely contain my beating heart. Horrible anxiety ran through my body. For days, I cried endlessly, feeling completely lost.

  • 12 months ago
  • June 21, 2023
7 min read
It took four long years for Gabriela Arias Uriburu to be reunited with her children and get to see the inside of the house they grew up in whilst being separated from her. While she still holds on to a lot of trauma, she chooses to only focus on the positive as she slowly rebuilds herself. It took four long years for Gabriela Arias Uriburu to be reunited with her children and get to see the inside of the house they grew up in whilst being separated from her. While she still holds on to a lot of trauma, she chooses to only focus on the positive as she slowly rebuilds herself. | Photo courtesy of Gabriela Arias Uriburu
Gabriela Arias Uriburu is an Argentine writer and human rights activist, renowned for her fight to regain contact with her children after her ex-husband, Imad Shaban, illegally took their children to Jordan. She became a public and international figure for Human Rights after starting FoundChild, the first NGO that acts as a mediator during these legal battles to ensure the child’s safety first. She received recognition from the Honorable Senate of the Nation (2014) as a leading figure for Human Rights in the Buenos Aires Legislature. She currently produces and coordinates the “Encounter and Healing Workshops” through which she carries out intense work as a lecturer addressing different topics such as familial bonds, resilience, women, and multiculturalism, among others.
Foundchild is a Children’s Institution, acting as a mediator between parents, as well as providing the necessary support and containment to safeguard the rights of children to develop fully. It is an NGO that addresses the issue of family restitution by and for the child, prioritizing their place in the family, and in the world.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — When my ex husband and I first fell in love, we felt determined to overcome any obstacles that came our way and embark on a journey together. However, reality proved to be far more challenging, and our relationship eventually crumbled. Amidst the painful divorce proceedings, he unlawfully took our three precious children to Jordan.

The ensuing years turned into a constant struggle as I fought to regain a presence in their lives. For the first three long months, I had no idea of their whereabouts. The authorities eventually discovered their location, and the Argentine government confirmed they were in Jordan. It marked the beginning of a new chapter and a new path in my life.

The ordeal of having my children taken away and being unable to raise them for so long remains an immense burden I bear. Throughout it all, I never wished to be a victim. Instead, I sought to find meaning in the circumstances and prioritize my children above all else. Deep scars are etched upon my being, and even today, I find myself waking up in the morning, grateful for being alive, yet sensing a profound contradiction within me—a reminder that there is still much healing to be done.

Related: Woman who had full custody of her children files abduction suit against ex, National Women’s Front gets involved

When he took my children away, I felt the world open up and swallow me whole 

When I was very young, my parents went through a separation that plunged me into a constant battle between their anger, frustration, and sadness. I found myself caught in the crossfire, facing painful lessons no child should endure. The experience left a mark on me. I decided early on that none of my children will ever know this type of anguish. When I met Imán everything felt like a fairytale at first. Not long after, we decided to marry and build our own family. However, we faced marital crises that proved unfixable, leading us to part ways. Despite that profound family tragedy, I remained determined not to inflict any harm upon my children. That became my guiding principle.

When I first discovered Imán took my children to Jordan without my knowledge, I felt like my chest could barely contain my beating heart. Horrible anxiety ran through my body. For days, I cried endlessly, feeling completely lost. I experienced so much insomnia, unable to think of anything else. Still, I remained determined to find them at any cost. As soon as I discovered their whereabouts in Jordan, I embarked on a mission to rebuild the bond with my children.

I felt terrified they would think I abandoned them. They were still so young, and my focus was solely on being the best mother I could be for them. I made a conscious choice to approach the situation calmly rather than in anger. Even when offered the means to forcefully retrieve them, I declined, knowing deep within that my path had to come from a different direction.

After four long years, I finally got to see the inside of their home

Eventually, I started getting scheduled visits to see my children. They took place in a tiny room in a residence because I was not allowed to see their home. Despite how short the visits were, they sustained the bond between us and kept me going. Every time I came to see them, they would run excitedly into my arms, screaming “Mom,” at the top of their lungs. It meant everything to me. Through it all, I never ceased to be with my children, even when we were physically apart.

I wanted so badly to find the right words to tell them how much I loved them despite everything keeping us apart. As soon as we were in the same room, you could feel the love all around. There was no need for explanations or re-establishing our connection; it was simply us again. Words became obsolete, replaced by vibrant colors and heightened senses. I distinctly remember that as I walked toward them, everything around us seemed to light up with a radiant glow.

When I got divorced, my youngest child was just one year and eight months old, still a baby. My daughter Sahira was four years old, and my son Karim was five. In 2004, I entered their house for the first time after years of separation. Tears streamed down my face as I moved slowly through the rooms. They held onto my legs, our eyes locked, and we embraced. The walls were adorned with everything I had sent them throughout those years. I remember the pennant of Boca Juniors, the canopies I had made with photos from their birth until that day, and the little figurines. The farewells during those visits felt eternal.

The visits I had with them are the only thing that kept me going 

The visits we had were few and far between, so I made sure to make the most of every moment. I carried a bunch of gifts in my suitcase, like Mary Poppins. I brought them signed soccer balls, tshirts, games, and alfajores (Spanish sweets filled with dulce de leche). Whenever we were apart and I missed them dearly and started preparing the suitcase for our next visit. I made sure to take my time organizing it, each time with new surprises for them.

However, these visits were not solely my decision. I needed the permission of the father of my children and his entire family. It didn’t matter if I wanted to or not. My lawyer once warned me, “If I have to tie you to a chair, I will, because you can’t set foot there without diplomatic immunity. Once you enter Jordan, you are under his ownership and his family’s. That’s the sad reality.” This journey took me many years. As I worked tirelessly for the sake of my children, I began to realize the immense number of other children who found themselves in similar circumstances.

As a mother, I had to set aside my anguish and face the colossal complexity of my children’s situation. The first year felt agonizing. In the mornings, I woke up feeling utterly overwhelmed, convinced that I could no longer bear the weight. The internal struggle within me felt fierce. It felt as though I was slowly dying. I kept seeing their smiles, hearing their little laughs around me. It often felt too much to bear, but I fought with every fiber of my being to keep going.

My journey led me to start my own organization

Their father and I experienced a lot of ups and downs throughout our relationship over the years. Each time we found ourselves reunited for the children, it became a process of immense growth for the both of us. We learned and evolved a lot since our separation. Our relationship got better over time and we strive to create a positive environment for our children’s sake. I used to let the anger I felt consume me every day my children were not with me. Slowly, I made the decision to let it go and live in the present moment. As I navigate this strange situation, today I feel grateful that my children and I share a wonderful relationship. Cases like mine, where one parent finds themselves unable to see their children and must initiate a legal battle just to see them, remain extremely common.

 It requires so much courage and a lot of fighting. I feel sad for all the parents out there who got separated from their children against their own wishes. I know how painful it feels all too well. There needs to be more help available for them to pursue a legal battle. Over the past few years, I have engaged in inner work to seek peace and reconciliation with my dramatic life story. I started FoundChild, an organization aimed at giving a voice to people in similar situations and to protect children. We act as mediators in legal battles to ensure compromise between both sides, prioritizing the child. It’s important to navigate difficulties with inner strength. If you’re still alive, it means you can do it. We must tap into the wisdom of resilience. 

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