Saudi Arabia outlaws domestic abuse
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A landmark new law passed by Saudi Arabia on Monday makes domestic abuse a crime in the country for the first time, with perpetrators facing up to a year in prison. Until now, violence in the home has been treated as a purely private matter.
Saudi Arabia passed an historic law Monday making domestic abuse a crime for the first time in the kingdom’s history.
The law, passed by the country’s Council of Ministers, prohibits various kinds of physical, psychological and sexual abuse, both at home and in the workplace.
Abusers will face a minimum jail term of one month, rising to a maximum of one year, or be fined between 5,000 and 50,000 riyals (approximately 1,000 to 10,000 euros), reports the Saudi Gazette.
The law also provides for additional treatment and support for victims and gives courts the power to take guardianship of children away from abusive parents in repeat offence cases.
It represents a significant advancement in women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, where domestic violence has until now been treated as a private matter, rather than a legal issue.
Need for male guardian could limit law’s impact
Nevertheless, the impact of the new law could be curtailed by the fact that women in the country will still require a male guardian to accompany them to file legal complaints, even though in many cases the guardian may well be the abuser.
Under current Saudi law, all women are required to have a male guardian, typically a husband, father or other family member.
Along with legal affairs, women need permission from their guardian in order to carry out a number of aspects of civil life, ranging from seeking employment and education to opening a bank account
“Everyday life in Saudi Arabia depends on male guardians being present at all times - a situation which utterly limits freedom of movement for the Kingdom's women and something which needs to be urgently changed,” explained Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Middle East/North Africa consultant for the campaign group Equality Now.
“In a scenario where a woman gives testimony against an abusive husband, she will still need to be brought by a male (typically her husband) to the police station and away again.”
She added that the success of the new law will also depend on courts and police officers being properly trained “to ensure that they are aware of the complexities of implementing such a law”.
Law follows first ever domestic abuse awareness campaign
Precise statistics on domestic abuse in Saudi Arabia are hard to come by. However, Arab News cites a 2009 survey of women seeking services at health centres in the city of Medina which revealed that 25.7 percent said they were victims of physical abuse, but only around a third of these reported this to their doctors.
But although still something of a taboo subject in the kingdom, domestic abuse has become a growing topic of debate in Saudi Arabia and May this year saw the launch of country’s first ever publicity campaign raising awareness of violence against women.
The provocative campaign features ads showing a woman in a dark veil with one black eye with a caption on the English version reading: “Some things can’t be covered.”
Saudi Arabia has long been criticised for its record on women’s rights by domestic and international rights groups. Women in the country face significant restriction on their civil liberties and are even banned from driving.
However, the kingdom has moved to make a number of tentative reforms to improve women’s rights in recent years, including a law passed earlier this year allowing women to join the country’s advisory body the Shura Council for the first time.