NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet has passed landmark legislation recognising all forms of abuse, including domestic violence, as offenses deserving investigation, prosecution and punishment by law enforcement agencies, according to local media reports.
Previously, the kingdom regarded domestic abuse against women and children as private matters, but under the new law all forms of abuse - including physical, psychological and sexual - as well as the threat of abuse, will be eligible for penal action.
According to the Saudi Gazette, the Ministry of Social Affairs said convicted abusers will receive a minimum jail term of one month and a maximum of one year and/or fines ranging from 5,000 to 50,000 Saudi riyals ($1,333 to $13,333). In the case of repeat offenses, the punishment will be doubled.
In a statement to the Saudi Press Agency following the Cabinet session, Minister of Culture and Information Dr Abdulaziz Khoja said the new law affords abuse victims provisions for shelter as well as psychological, social and health care.
He noted there is also a specific provision in the law to prevent workplace abuse. “All civilian or military employees and all workers in the private sector who learn of a case of abuse - by virtue of their work - shall report the case to their employers when they know,” the Cabinet said in a statement.
Domestic violence, previously considered a private family matter in the kingdom, is a relatively new concept for public discussion. In April, the kingdom published its first public campaign ad against domestic violence, featuring a close-up of a woman wearing a niqab with only her eyes visible, one markedly blackened. “Some things can’t be covered - fighting women’s abuse together,” read the ad’s text.
National Society for Human Rights member Suhaila Zain Al Abideen Al Hammad told the Saudi Gazette that she feared the new law was flawed because women are still subject to male guardians who must bring them to file abuse complaints, even though they might well be the abusers.
Domestic abuse is still not openly discussed in the kingdom, but a 2009 report cited by Arabian Business found that of women seeking help at primary health centres in Medina, 25.7 percent of the 689 women surveyed had been victims of physical domestic abuse, but only 36.7 percent of them had notified their doctors.