Libya revolution inspires "foundlings" over rights

Fri Nov 4, 2011 7:52am EDT
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By Brian Rohan

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - A group of women abandoned by their families and housed in a shelter in Benghazi have been inspired by Libya's revolt to push for personal freedoms in a society where they have few.

Known as "foundlings" because no one will care for them and they are not independent in the eyes of authorities, the twelve are banned from leaving a fenced compound without an escort. Officials say they fear for the safety of women on their own.

The group, mostly in their twenties, want more independence and better living conditions, and have now started to protest about their life as second-class citizens.

"It's about respect -- officials speak to us like we're nothing and call us street people," said Hind el-Huni. "We want freedom too."

The 23-year-old has spent six of the last 10 years in the shelter in this eastern city after fleeing a brother and father with alcohol problems.

Police can detain people found on the street in Libya, including "foundlings" who leave the shelter. Amid the rapid changes of the post-Gaddafi era, the women hope to gain more rights despite their classification as orphans, divorcees, or illegitimate children.

Intisa Mustapha, a lawyer who has lived among the group at the shelter for a month for what she says are personal reasons, says the social system must change.

"Some try to kill themselves, others attempt escape," the 38-year-old said. "They are not allowed to live outside if they don't have a home or job.   Continued...