Growing demands for compulsory pre-marital addiction testing in Saudi Arabia

Growing demands for compulsory pre-marital addiction testing in Saudi Arabia
Abdulhakim Al-Yousef, Marriage counselor. (Supplied)
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Updated 24 September 2021

Growing demands for compulsory pre-marital addiction testing in Saudi Arabia

Growing demands for compulsory pre-marital addiction testing in Saudi Arabia
  • It is necessary in building healthy society and will significantly impact divorce, domestic violence rates, says expert

JEDDAH: Pre-marital addiction tests have become a public demand in Saudi Arabia after two homicides committed by men against their young wives in August.
The Saudi Public Prosecution announced the arrest of the perpetrators, adding that the necessary legal actions were taken against them.
But these incidents have sparked discussions across different social media platforms in the Kingdom, with many people calling for compulsory pre-marital addiction tests and psychological evaluations of the mental health of both potential spouses.
Saudi authorities already require pre-marital screening for couples to detect common genetic blood disorders and infectious diseases.
However, calls to expand pre-marital testing to include psychological evaluations are nothing new, with many people arguing that their inclusion would be a successful way to tackle addiction and protect the family unit.
The most recent action to expand the pre-marital testing program was taken within the Kingdom’s Shoura Council in 2019, where some members proposed the inclusion of addiction tests, as well as tests for disorders and mental illnesses.
The proposal was denied because it did not receive enough supporting votes. The objection was supported by some specialists, who said that such tests have low accuracy and are prohibitively expensive.
Nonetheless, drug tests are already required in the case of non-Saudi men marrying Saudi women. Some specialists are now calling to include that requirement in overall pre-marital tests for both Saudis and non-Saudis, and both men and women.
Suzan Abdulsalam Khalil, a psychologist working with the protection unit against domestic violence in Jeddah, strongly supports pre-marital drug testing to detect addiction.
According to Khalil, this change will lead to the early detection of abusers and addicts. “It will protect young women from unknowingly getting married to an addict or mentally ill man, which would be a traumatizing experience for them and harms both parties, but most importantly the woman. Moreover, the situation worsens when there are children involved,” she told Arab News.
From her experience at the protection unit, Khalil has witnessed the devastating impact of a drug-addicted parent on children within the family.
“The behavior of drug users varies greatly before and after they take their dose, and unfortunately, this unstable situation badly affects the children and the family as a whole,” she said. “The psychological evaluation of children of an addict parent is always bad. We also find physical violence marks sometimes, traces of injuries, and bruises on their bodies, and sometimes we refer them to psychiatric hospitals.”
Khalil believes that expanding pre-marital testing is a necessary step in building a healthy society. It will significantly impact divorce and domestic violence rates and will also force addicts to receive treatment and professional help, she said.
She added that women’s reactions to being married to an addict can differ. Some choose divorce, while others try to be patient. But this can result in living an unstable life that includes physical or emotional abuse, which will eventually have an extremely negative impact on children, she said.

HIGHLIGHT

• Saudi authorities already require pre-marital screening for couples to detect common genetic blood disorders and infectious diseases.

• The program aims to give medical consultations on the potential transmitting of disorders to future children, and looks to provide couples with options that help them plan for a healthy family.

• However, calls to expand pre-marital testing to include psychological evaluations are nothing new, with many people arguing that their inclusion would be a successful way to tackle addiction and protect the family unit.

Various factors contribute to this complicated situation; however, the social stigma and shame attached to addiction and mental illness leads to negative social norms.
As a result, people with substance use disorder, and sometimes their families, tend to hide the reality behind their situation when it comes to marriage.
Furthermore, lack of awareness about the seriousness of mental health issues contributes to the continuation of unhealthy marriages and damaging social behaviors when dealing with mentally ill members of society.
Therefore, experts say that an action plan to spread awareness and change the culture is urgently needed.
Khalil said that parents, before agreeing to marry their daughter to a proposing man, usually try to investigate the man’s background, manners and moral standards within his work environment and friendship circles.
“But on the other hand, no one ever considers asking about the man’s mental health status or whether he has been diagnosed with a mental illness at any hospital,” she said.
The discussion surrounding an expansion of pre-marital screening highlights a more significant issue for marriage counselor and family therapist Abdulhakim Al-Yousef.
He believes that the real issue underlying the public debate is not whether or not to enforce addiction testing of couples before marriage, but the problematic idea of the possibility of entering a marital relationship with someone with an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
“It is rather more related to the many details that addicts to alcohol or drugs should be aware of, including those close to them,” Al-Yousef told Arab News. “It is important to understand that arriving at the phase of addiction is entering a state of mental illness that requires medical treatment and professional help, therefore entering a marital relationship at this phase is a very serious problem.”
He noted that addiction treatment requires patient admission to a rehab facility to receive appropriate treatment programs for their situation and recovery. It consists of several stages that need commitment, willingness, patience and family support.
He said: “Addiction treatment is a very sensitive matter that cannot happen without medical intervention, supervision and therapy. Marriage is never a solution to such a problem. When one of the spouses is an addict, the other partner cannot take responsibility for his or her treatment.”
Furthermore, the family therapist emphasized that quitting any form of substance abuse after completing the treatment program is not the end of the story, because recovering from an addiction is a lifelong journey. “Once a recovering addict returns to drug use at any later stage in his life, even with a small amount, he will return to point zero,” he warned.
In addition to medical treatment, patients also need cognitive behavioral therapy and family therapy sessions to establish a healthier relationship with themselves, their families and the world around them.

As a result, living with a recovering partner is not easy by itself. Therefore, starting a relationship with someone still actively consuming drugs or alcohol is a disastrous mistake, Al-Yousef warned. He places a strong emphasis on transparency between couples before marriage; they must be honest about details related to their backgrounds, personalities, health history and any other aspect that could impact their relationship in the future.
“Getting into a relationship without revealing these details will lead to other multifaceted problems,” he said, noting adding mental illnesses must not be treated as “hidden, dark secrets” between couples. “Surely, every person has the right to have a family and to enjoy a healthy relationship, but that is not possible for addicts unless they break free from addiction under specialist supervision and support,” he said.
For Al-Yousef, addiction detection tests might not directly impact divorce rates and domestic violence rates since several factors contribute to these phenomena.
Nonetheless, if applied, he counts on these tests to raise public awareness about drug and alcohol abuse, and to create momentum in the national mental health sector in the long run.


Saudi Arabia calls for greater global efforts toward disaster relief

Saudi Arabia calls for greater global efforts toward disaster relief
Updated 13 sec ago

Saudi Arabia calls for greater global efforts toward disaster relief

Saudi Arabia calls for greater global efforts toward disaster relief

NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia has urged the need for greater international efforts toward disaster relief assistance at the UN in New York.

It came as the Kingdom addressed the UN Sixth Committee, the body’s primary forum for legal questions.

The 76th session of the UN General Assembly was held Monday to discuss agenda item 87, “the protection of persons in the event of disasters.”

In a speech, Nidaa Abu Ali, a member of the Kingdom’s permanent delegation to the UN in New York, addressed item 87 as a “fundamental principle” of humanitarianism.

Abu Ali said that the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic “demonstrated the fast-paced speed at which disasters occur,” urging the need for a global response framework and cooperation in disaster situations.

She added that the Kingdom is a leading country in implementing strong and immediate measures in response to emergency crises while also assisting at the international level by providing humanitarian relief and economic assistance to developing countries.

Abu Ali noted that since its establishment in 2015, the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center has contributed to meeting urgent needs in cooperation with international organizations by combating disasters and food scarcity through financial and logistical support. During the Kingdom’s 2020 G20 Presidency, Abu Ali said that the most notable effort in combating the global pandemic and salvaging the global economy was the $11 billion allocated for medical support in developing countries.

On a national level, Abu Ali stressed the Kingdom’s initiative, associated with the Sustainable Development Goals, to activate a national strategy to reduce disaster risks, integrating measures into local development activities.

The strategy will aid in the reduction of risk, especially in vulnerable groups such as women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities.

In her final comments, Abu Ali urged the need to find a common legal framework to facilitate international humanitarian aid and international cooperation.

She expressed the Kingdom’s support for preparing an international legal instrument and convention to ensure the protection of people during times of disaster in a manner that does not conflict with the sovereignty or national legislation of countries around the world.


Saudi Arabia postpones return of elementary students to classrooms

Saudi Arabia postpones return of elementary students to classrooms
Updated 35 min 45 sec ago

Saudi Arabia postpones return of elementary students to classrooms

Saudi Arabia postpones return of elementary students to classrooms
  • Pupils under the age of 12 will continue to be taught remotely for safety reasons pending further studies, officials said

JEDDAH: With less than two weeks to go until elementary students were due to return to classrooms in Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Education has announced that they will continue to be taught remotely until further notice, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday.

The proposed Oct. 31 return to in-person teaching has been postponed for safety reasons, the ministry said.

It added that it requires further epidemiological data about the COVID-19 situation in the Kingdom as part of a risk assessment before a decision can be made on the resumption of in-person learning for children below the age of 12.

“The ministry will continue its efforts to offer virtual learning to the age group through ‘Madrasati’ (online platform) for the elementary level and ‘Rawdaty’ for preschool level,” it said.

The Ministries of Health and Education have been working together to ensure the successful resumption of in-person education for middle-school and high-school students.

In August, the Ministry of Education announced that, in accordance with regulations issued by the Health Ministry, fully vaccinated students over the age of 12 would return to classrooms. Those who are not fully vaccinated will continue to be taught remotely, with classwork uploaded to the ministry-approved Madrasati platform.

On Oct. 12, the Ministry of Education issued a directive urging education authorities across the Kingdom to ensure that all students are fully vaccinated, and reiterating that those who are not will have to remain at home. Students were given two weeks from the start of the semester to complete the vaccination process.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Ministry of Health on Tuesday reported 49 new COVID-19 cases in the Kingdom and two related deaths.

The latest figures put the total number of cases so far recorded in the country at 548,018 and the overall death toll at 8,767.

Health officials said there were currently 2,214 active cases, of which 90 patients were in a serious or critical condition.

Among the newly reported cases, 16 were in Riyadh, nine in Jeddah, three in Jubail, and two in both Al-Darb and Makkah.

The ministry also announced that 38 patients had recovered from COVID-19, taking the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 537,037.

A further 45,275 polymerase chain reaction tests had been carried out in the last 24-hour period, meaning that to date more than 29.8 million PCR checks had been conducted in the country.

Meanwhile, it was revealed that at least 44.8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered since the Kingdom’s immunization campaign started and more than 20.8 million people were now fully vaccinated.


We will not see his like again: Saudi royal tribute to British journalist Roger Harrison

We will not see his like again: Saudi royal tribute to British journalist Roger Harrison
Updated 20 October 2021

We will not see his like again: Saudi royal tribute to British journalist Roger Harrison

We will not see his like again: Saudi royal tribute to British journalist Roger Harrison
  • Prince Sultan bin Salman pays tribute to former Arab News senior reporter Roger Harrison, who documented his landmark glider tour of the Kingdom

RIYADH: In a heartfelt tribute to former Arab News staffer Roger Harrison, who has died on the Spanish island of Mallorca at the age of 75, Prince Sultan bin Salman, the first Arab and Muslim astronaut, said that the journalist’s love of Saudi Arabia and its people was obvious in all that he did.

“He wasn’t doing those things only for his job with Arab News, but because he enjoyed it,” he said.

In an exclusive interview, Prince Sultan recalled that he was head of the Saudi Commission for Tourism when he met Harrison, a senior reporter with Arab News from 2001 until 2013, for the first time.

“Arab News was doing some fantastic articles about Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I think I noticed his name and subsequently we connected. It became a real friendship because his feelings were overwhelming.

“We ended up also doing some traveling together in different parts of the country. We invited him to come to our farm for various conferences. Basically Roger was often there when we had guests, official or nonofficial.

“And then in 2006, Bandar bin Khaled Al-Faisal came up with the idea of doing, for the first time ever, an aerial tour of Saudi Arabia using a glider.”

Harrison’s work in his seminal 2014 book, “Wings Over Arabia,” a photographic record of the three-man glider mission that flew over and photographed many spectacular and rarely seen areas of the Kingdom, has been widely praised. Prince Sultan explained how the adventure came about and how Harrison became a part of it.

“I got my gliding license in 1986 in Hawaii but I really hadn’t flown much after that,” he said. “Bandar and I started gliding in the 2000s. We met John Bally who was an English gliding instructor and he joined us when we started gliding in the Alps.

“Then we developed the idea of coming to Saudi Arabia and gliding in the Kingdom. We brought the team that worked on the documentary series. Then I brought Roger in as part of the Tourism Commission to document the mission and he threw himself completely into it.”

The prince said Roger became totally involved with the team planning Wings Over Arabia.

“It was a big team and I am very sorry to say that three of them have now passed away,” he said. “Ahmed Al-Zahrani was our mechanic in the Aviation Club. He unfortunately died in an accident. He was a great guy and you can see him in the video. I am still actually looking out for his two sons and his family.

“The other one was Captain Zakariah from Sri Lanka. He passed away only a few months ago, after he retired. He was with me for years and he flew a Twin Otter airplane, which you can see in the movie and also in the book.

“The Twin Otter was given to us by Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, though it was originally given to King Fahd. It’s a great airplane but a very slow one so we took the door off. It was then used by the photography team, the American team that comprised the other photographers and the cinematographers for the documentary.”

Prince Sultan said that he brought Harrison and Bally to the team, while Prince Bandar assembled the documentary crew.

“John came in to fly with us and, in fact, he had a great deal more experience than we did,” he said. “I was actually the most experienced pilot in the group because I had started flying in 1976 and was in the Saudi Royal Air Force. I have probably done 10,000 hours of flying jets but I had the least gliding experience in the group.

“John had the most and, of course, there was Bandar who had some gliding experience and was a great pilot, too. We flew around the Kingdom and planned the trip. Roger’s role was to do photography and write articles.”

Prince Sultan said Harrison was a vital part of the team that flew in the Twin Otter.

“He always told me he always felt sick in the plane but he kept flying, even though the door was open and he was hanging by a small strap,” said the prince. “We basically just went around Saudi Arabia on seven or eight-day trips.

“Roger of course published a number of things and we worked together on various ideas, and one of them was Saudi Colors. This was an initiative I supported within the Tourism Commission and it sponsored an annual event for photography and photographers.

“We sent Saudi photographers, and others, out of the country and, basically, we had an awards program that developed into making movies and videos. Ultimately the program even included expats and I wish it had continued. It showcased the great talents not only of Saudis but of expats as well.”

Talking about his passion for flying, Prince Sultan said: “It’s all about trying to live life fully. I do a lot of serious work, a lot of charity work, a lot of government work, and a lot of ministry work. After all, I live here.

“There are many people who tell me they have never seen me in a building because so much of my life is outside. In my childhood, Riyadh was much smaller and my brothers and I enjoyed horseback riding in the desert. The desert was not as far away as it is now; it was nothing but sand dunes and there was a small stable and a small villa which my father let us use.”

There were also more formal events, including visits from foreign dignitaries, but even these often had an outdoors element.

“There were a lot of beautiful dinners and I asked my father to host some visitors, such as the king of Morocco, the president of Lebanon and other people, in a big tent,” the prince said. “It was a real desert event and we rode horses and showed our falcons. We went hunting in the southern Iraqi desert north of Saudi Arabia, which is another empty quarter.

“The outdoors, for me, has always been something that I love and that is true even today. I can’t imagine life without being outdoors; I often sit outdoors and, especially in the evenings, I go to the desert.”

Prince Sultan said he developed a love of aviation when he was in America.

“I had a friend there, Joe Clarke,” he explained. “He owned a lot of airplanes and he is another fine man who has passed away. America is the country of adventure and is the most amazing place, too. I lived in Colorado and most of the time there I skied. I do hardcore skiing, and I used to go camping but not any more.”

Now, he has other places that inspire him.

“I sometimes go to Africa now, though I don’t shoot animals; instead I use a camera,” he said. “We go in cars following the animals as they do their seasonal migrations. I have worked with National Geographic and with some of its great photographers who have published books. I took National Geographic to places they wanted to go in the Kingdom.”

Prince Sultan said the Kingdom’s heritage and traditions remain extremely important to him.

“Our national heritage became an issue for me, and I live in a mudhouse here,” he explained. “I always pay attention to traditional things and ways of living and I visit a lot of towns and villages. I still go to Taif, for its high altitude, and just last weekend I went on a beautiful high-altitude hike there.

“The flying part is the cream on the cake in terms of adventure because you see the world from a different perspective. You can always see the beauty of the universe and of our country.

“Its beauty was opened up by Saudi Colors. We saw Saudi Arabia from so many different perspectives: That of thousands of Saudis, and thousands of photographers and movie makers. A whole industry grew from that and, InshaAllah, we will recreate it. I am working on that now.”

Roger Harrison’s affection for Saudi Arabia was also clear, the prince added.

“I think Roger was, first of all, a man who loved Saudi Arabia and loved its people too,” he said. “That’s basically what fired him up to research and write all those stories. He was a man with a lot of energy and it drove him to do many things and opened many doors. I worked with him on lots of ideas; some came (to pass) and as for the others, we had been waiting for the coronavirus to go away.

“I think Roger was somebody who appreciated beauty and adventure and the life of the people. I connect with those kinds of people: People who can feel life and not just live it, people who can identify things and ideas and run with them.

Harrison was born in 1946. He arrived in Saudi Arabia with his wife in 1996. (Supplied)

“Roger was truly unique and I always enjoyed time with him, whether it was a casual meeting or when he came to my farm for lunch or dinner. He always added an element of enthusiasm that we could all enjoy because he had been to places that he talked about and impressed us with his adventurous spirit.”

Prince Sultan said that when he was asked recently to make a video for an award presentation he immediately thought of Roger.

“In the US there is a huge aviation community and there is an annual award given to what they call ‘Legends of Aviation,’” he said. “To be an aviator is different from being a pilot, you know. A pilot is like a driver but to be an aviator is to have a passion, rather than simply a hobby you indulge in every once in a while.

“To my surprise, I was informed that the community wanted to nominate me for the award. They asked me for a two-hour video and the first person I thought of to do it was Roger. A month before, a mutual friend from the US had sent me a message saying he had been trying unsuccessfully to get in touch with Roger. So three or four days ago, I asked my assistant to reach out to Roger and tell him I wanted to talk to him about doing the video and also find out how he was.

“When my assistant finally got an answer, he spoke to Roger’s son who said: ‘My father passed away on Saturday.’"

The sad news was a great shock to the prince.

“That blew me away,” he said. “We had made plans to meet in Mallorca (where Roger had settled with his wife). Roger had even sent me suggestions of places to visit, where the Arabs from Spain had been (Al-Andalus). I was looking forward to going there in the off-season and enjoying spending some time with Roger again.

“After I had heard the bad news, I spoke to Roger’s wife and son and they were interested in seeing what Arab News had published about their husband and father. I told them there would be an event to honor Roger and we would bring them here.”

Prince Sultan said he had previously persuaded Roger to mount an exhibition of his photographs of Saudi Arabia, similar to one the prince had worked on with another distinguished expat, Richard Bodeker.

“Bodeker was a brilliant landscaper,” he said. “In fact, there is a YouTube movie called ‘The Gardener and the Princess’ that tells the story of Richard Bodeker and what he accomplished in Saudi Arabia.

“I had talked him into doing a documentary about his work; he probably had 20,000 to 30,000 photos of Saudi plants and of the landscaping he had done in the Diplomatic Quarter and Wadi Hanifah. He did the landscaping for the National Museum and though he died about a year and a half ago, his company and his son are still here. There is a garden in the Diplomatic Quarter that is named for him in acknowledgment of his 40 years in Saudi Arabia and the fantastic work he did.

“As with him, so with Roger and his achievements: We will not see his like again."


Rap star Pitbull to launch Riyadh Season with sold-out concert

Rap star Pitbull to launch Riyadh Season with sold-out concert
Updated 20 October 2021

Rap star Pitbull to launch Riyadh Season with sold-out concert

Rap star Pitbull to launch Riyadh Season with sold-out concert
  • Grand parade and fireworks display in opening ceremony of the Middle East’s largest entertainment festival

RIYADH: The Cuban-American rap star Pitbull will launch this year’s Riyadh Season festival with a sold-out concert on Wednesday that will be broadcast live.
The opening ceremony of the Middle East’s largest celebration of music, dining, and entertainment will also feature a parade and fireworks show.
The festival site covers 5.4 million square meters, divided into 14 zones — Boulevard Riyadh City, Al’Athriyah, Oasis, Combat Field, Riyadh Front, Qariat Zaman, Winter Wonderland, the Groves, VIA Riyadh, Riyadh Safari, Nabd Al Riyadh, Alsalam Tree, Almurabaa, and Khaloha.
There will be 16 events this month alone — WWE Crown Jewel on Oct. 21, Rush Gaming Festival from Oct. 22 to 26, the Crystal Maze live experience on Oct. 22, the Global Town Festival on Oct. 27, the Champions of Magic show on Oct. 27, and the Messi 10 Cirque Du Soleil show on Oct. 29.
And that’s just the start, with a total of 7,500 events, programs and activities for all age groups and interests. This year, children and fans of the nursery rhymes show CoComelon will be able to meet the characters while visiting their home, school, and farm in the Winter Wonderland zone.
Most events are free, and those that require tickets will be listed on the Riyadh Season 2021 website. Visitors must link their tickets to the Tawakkalna app, which has a new security feature to prevent tickets being misused or resold.
The entertainment sector will be a key contributor to the growth of the economy as part of Vision 2030. Riyadh Season will support the tourism and leisure sector and provide a unique experience for visitors. It continues until March 2022.


UK foreign secretary visits Saudi Arabia, Qatar to boost economic and security ties

UK foreign secretary visits Saudi Arabia, Qatar to boost economic and security ties
Updated 20 October 2021

UK foreign secretary visits Saudi Arabia, Qatar to boost economic and security ties

UK foreign secretary visits Saudi Arabia, Qatar to boost economic and security ties
  • Liz Truss says she wants closer trading and investment relationship with the Gulf
  • The foreign secretary sees both Saudi Arabia and Qatar as important partners in deepening the UK’s economic, technology and security and defense ties

LONDON: UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss began a trip to the Gulf region on Wednesday, aimed at boosting economic and security ties.
“I want a closer trading and investment relationship with the Gulf and for us to collaborate more closely on issues like intelligence sharing, development, security and defense,” Truss said.
The first leg of her tour begins in Saudi Arabia, where she will meet with Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan to “discuss closer cooperation on regional security, development, human rights and counter-terrorism, and how the two nations can build economic links as part of the Kingdom’s plan to diversify its economy,” Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said.
Her trip includes a visit to Qatar, where she will meet with Emir Sheikh Tamim and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman, to discuss cooperation on Afghanistan and regional security. She will also visit a facility housing people who have left Afghanistan in recent weeks.
“Qatar has played a critical role in supporting safe passage for those seeking to leave Afghanistan, including over 100 British nationals since the UK’s evacuation operation ended in late August,” the statement said, adding that the most recent flight arrived in Doha on Monday carrying 17 British nationals.
She will also launch a UK-Qatari strategic dialogue, which will form the basis for deeper bilateral cooperation on security, development, trade and investment.
“The foreign secretary sees both Saudi Arabia and Qatar as important partners in deepening the UK’s economic, technology and security and defense ties with friends and allies around the world,” the statement also said.
Following its exit from the European Union, the UK has began a free trade deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which will boost trade — already worth over £30 billion ($41.4 billion) — by creating new opportunities for UK exporters and closer two-way investment ties, the foreign office said.
“Closer security and economic ties with Gulf allies will help us deliver jobs and opportunities for people back in the UK and ensure as friends and partners that we are operating from a position of strength in the world,” Truss said.