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Historic domestic abuse legislation passed in Saudi Arabia

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 28th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Oil-wealthy Saudi Arabia is known internationally about keeping its female population "under the veil," both literally and metaphorically. The nation remains the only country in the world that refuses drivers licenses for women. Now --Saudi Arabia's Cabinet has passed landmark legislation which recognizes all forms of abuse, including domestic violence, as offenses deserving investigation, prosecution and punishment by law enforcement agencies.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Saudi Arabia had previously regarded domestic abuse against women and children as private matters. With the new legislation, all forms of abuse - including physical, psychological and sexual - as well as the threat of abuse, will be eligible for penal action.

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). According to the According to the Saudi Gazette, in the case of repeat offenses, the punishment will be doubled.

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, in a statement to the Saudi Press Agency.

There is also a 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 is a relatively new concept for public discussion in Saudi Arabia. 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, sporting one blackened eye in April. "Some things can't be covered - fighting women's abuse together," read the ad's text.

Many are reacting to the news with caution. One activist fears the new law as flawed as women are still subject to male guardians who must bring them to file abuse complaints, even though they might well be the abusers, National Society for Human Rights member Suhaila Zain Al Abideen Al Hammad said.

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 centers 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.

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