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'Illegal birth' in Qatar

Entered in News & Media


In December 2012, Catherine, a Philippines national, emailed Doha News journalist Victoria Scott to ask about Qatar's laws regarding giving birth unmarried. Unfortunately, her questions - and Victoria's answers - came too late.

Catherine gave birth two weeks later, and was arrested in hospital in Doha shortly afterwards. Her crime: being a single mother. Her boyfriend had left her, and she'd surrendered her passport as security for a large debt to a loan shark, so she couldn't leave Qatar. She was sentenced to a year in jail, served with her baby.

When she realised Catherine's fate, Victoria set about writing a series of stories about her plight, and that of other women incarcerated in Qatar for giving birth 'illegally.'

In publishing the series, Doha News - Qatar's first digital news service, founded and owned by two US journalists - hoped to raise awareness of the fate of these women. Qatar's other media outlets had not previously done so, and therefore these women - primarily unskilled, low-paid migrant workers - were largely invisible in society.

Strategy and Execution

After tracking Catherine down via the Philippines Embassy, Victoria visited her and her son in jail a number of times.

Following these visits, she wrote a series of stories for which shone light on issues which until then had remained hidden from the majority of the public in Qatar.

Catherine (given the alias 'Mary' in the stories) ended up serving an extra two years for unpaid debts, and the stories also focused on this, informing the public that debtors' jails were still a reality in Qatar.

Doha News recently redesigned its website to optimise it for cell phone readers, capitalising on the country's high cell phone saturation statistics. This gave this series of stories incredible reach, particularly into the low-income domestic worker population sector, a part of Qatari society who are deeply affected by the issues the story raised.

Moreover, members' forums and comment sections gave Qatar's residents - many of whom are not nationals, and therefore have no opportunity to vote - the ability to debate the issues freely.


The impact of the series of stories was most acutely felt when Catherine and her son were released from jail in December 2015.

Despite hopes that they could fly home immediately, Catherine discovered that civil cases had been lodged against her for her unpaid debts, and this meant she was not allowed to leave Qatar.

However, after publicity generated by the stories, a team of lawyers working pro bono (who had got in touch with Catherine via Doha News) managed to lift Catherine's travel ban, and she and her son finally flew home in April this year, her debts forgiven by the Qatari government.

Furthermore, women incarcerated with their babies in jails are now no longer invisible in Qatar.

In a country where media regularly print press releases verbatim and where many residents are afraid to complain online for fear of reprisals from the authorities, this series of stories stood out.

The popularity of the stories demonstrated the deep shock many readers felt when they read them; the most recent update, about Catherine's departure, was shared more than 5,500 times on social media and provoked considerable free discussion and debate.

Additionally, the stories have prompted some residents to form groups donating goods and money to women and babies in Qatar's jails, and spurred on many others to donate to a GoFundMe page to help Catherine afford a lawyer and day-to-day living costs.


Entrant Company / Organization Name

Doha News


Entry Credits