You & The Law: How Saudi Arabia is combating domestic abuse
Many people assume that “abuse” means only physical violence, but the law covers much more than that. It includes all kinds of psychological and sexual abuse, and exploitation of any kind. The definition is also expanded to cover any failure to give a family member their full rights, including education, health care and identification papers. This is a recognition that the harmful impact of psychological abuse and bullying may sometimes be even greater than that of physical abuse.
All members of society have a moral responsibility toward victims of abuse. The law, therefore, requires all parties, whether private or public, to report any cases of which they are aware. This emphasizes the crucial role that society as a whole plays in reducing the incidence of abuse, and creates a sense of solidarity in which any harmful act against any member of society is automatically disapproved of.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Development continues to develop and update reporting mechanisms for cases of violence and abuse. It has established a free, 24-hour helpline where cases may be reported. Reporting is not anonymous, and callers must identify themselves, but confidentiality is assured and the caller’s identity will be protected.
All complaints are examined to determine their validity. They are then investigated through the 24 Social Protection Units throughout the Kingdom, and the nine charitable societies that provide assistance and shelter for victims without the need for a guardian’s permission.
The social protection units look after the best interests of the victim and try to create a better environment, but if the situation is sufficiently serious it may be referred to court.
Anyone convicted of abuse may be imprisoned for up to a year, and fined up to SR50,000 ($13,336). Depending on the circumstances, the court may issue an alternative punishment of the deprivation of liberty, at the discretion of the judge, who may also consult the report by the Social Protection Unit.
Inherent in the protection system is the need to raise public awareness of the concept of abuse, and to educate everyone about their rights and responsibilities under the law. In this context, I would call for the inclusion of the articles of the Protection Against Abuse law in the curriculums of schools and educational institutions in general, to establish the proper knowledge of everyone’s rights and obligations.
Meanwhile, if you know of any cases of abuse, do not hesitate to call the 24-hour helpline on 1919.
• Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers.
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