Saudi Arabia outlaws domestic abuse - too little, too late?
Human rights activists welcome new law to protect women and children, but does it go far enough?
LANDMARK legislation in Saudi Arabia has criminalised domestic violence – but some human rights activists worry that it is not enough to stop abuse. The desert kingdom has faced international criticism over its lack of laws to protect women, children and domestic workers.
Previously judges were left to decide if an offence had taken place under sharia law, explains The Guardian. Mild violence against "disobedient" wives was seen as acceptable and domestic violence was generally treated as a private matter.
Under the new "Protection from Abuse" law, passed this week, those found guilty of committing psychological or physical abuse could now face prison sentences of up to one year and up to $13,300 in fines.
The law is aimed at protecting people from "all forms of abuse" and offering them shelter as well as "social, psychological, and medical aid", according to its text. The move has been commended by many human rights activists – including Khaled al-Fakher, from the National Society for Human Rights, which helped draft the legislation.
“We are always in favour of an explicit law that does not need interpretations or personal judgment,” he said.
Human rights activist Waleed Abu al-Khair said the new law gives women more independence. "Women were required to bring in a male relative if they showed up at a police station to file a complaint," Abu al-Khair said. This will now not be necessary. It also allows victims and witnesses to remain anonymous and immune from future litigation should the abuse fail to be proven in court.
People from across the world took to Twitter to discuss the law, predominantly welcoming the change. But many said it was “just a starting point” for a state where women are required to have a male guardian and are forbidden from driving, among other restrictions.
Yara al-Wazir, a humanitarian activist and columnist for Al Arabiya News, says it “could be too little, too late for the victims”. The cultural fear of bringing shame onto the family by reporting abuse “sadly still exists”, she says, and the new law fails to tackle the root of the problem. The minimum sentence is a fine or one month in jail, but there is no option of counselling for the abuser. “As such, the cycle is likely to continue,” she says.
Given the rates of abuse, it might be difficult for the government to provide financial support for attacked spouses, says Wazir. But then women must have the tools to lead a self-sustaining life. “The only push that women should receive is one into employment.” ·