How Saudi Arabia cares for girls who go astray

How Saudi Arabia cares for girls who go astray

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Saudi Arabia operates a modern and effective system of care and welfare homes for troubled girls and young women who are the subject of arrest or detention orders. There have been vocal complaints recently from a few of these young women, related to their social status, or alleged mistreatment. So what are their rights? 

These homes are affiliated with the Girls’ Social Welfare Institution, established by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development; the ministry also oversees the mechanisms by which the homes function. The women they care for are no older than 30, and there is a separate section for girls under the age of 15. 

Because of girls’ specific entitlement to privacy, the law requires that any investigation into their conduct must take place in the same institution, and include specialized psychological and social assessments.

Confidentiality is also crucial. By law, any information obtained by care homes in the course of an investigation is strictly confidential, and no authority may have access to it without specific permission from the interior minister.

On the issue of security, there is close cooperation between the Ministry of Labor and Social Development and the Interior Ministry. The two ministries work together to set regulations governing the conduct of guards appointed to protect the homes and their occupants, and of escorts who accompany the young women to court for trial and other legal procedures. 

It is also important to focus on the role these homes play in rehabilitating girls and young women who have somehow gone astray, and preparing them for a return to society. Education, including religious teaching, is a key element, with the aim of developing the women’s culture and accustoming them to good habits through reading and thinking. 

Self-reliance is also a goal, with vocational and technical training programs to equip the women with skills that will help them in the job market. 

When can the occupant of a welfare home expect to leave? First, obviously, when the period of detention to which she has been sentenced ends, she is free to return to society. 

This may also happen if investigations find she has committed no offense, or there is a court ruling to that effect. Finally, if it is proved to the satisfaction of the Minister of Labor and Social Development that her condition has improved, a judge may agree to release her before the end of her sentence. 

It is important to stress that this social and psychological rehabilitation applies not only to the young woman who has lost her way, but also to her family; everyone benefits from these programs, including society as a whole.

• 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. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif 

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