Saudi Arabia drafting new law to protect women, children

By Aroonim Bhuyan, IANS

Dubai : Saudi Arabia is drafting a new law that, when implemented, will go a long way in protecting women and children from violence.

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The Experts Commission at the council of ministers is expected to finish revising the draft next week, which defines child abuse, violence against women and punishment and penalties for these, according to a report in the Saudi Gazette newspaper.

“It is high time now to come with such a law against such practices and to define the responsibility of each party,” Saudi Minister for Social Affairs Abdul Mohsen Al-Akass was quoted as saying in the report.

“We are pushing hard for the endorsement of this law in order to put an end to these unacceptable malpractices.”

He said the new law is aimed at protecting the rights of women, be they wives, sisters or domestic maids, and of children, both female and male.

According to the draft law, fines or punishments or both may be imposed upon those found guilty of subjecting women and children to physical or mental abuse.

The draft called upon the social affairs ministry to coordinate and cooperate with NGOs and with the education, health and culture and information ministries to launch public awareness campaigns against family violence.

Meanwhile, UN special rapporteur on violence against women Yakin Ertuk, who is currently on a visit to this most influential of Gulf nations, has expressed amazement at the progress of the Saudi women.

“The Saudi woman has become a teacher, doctor, dean faculty and businessperson. There is no comparison between her status in the past and at present,” she was quoted as telling the Arabic daily Al-Watan.

However, she also expressed concern at what she called “horrible” cases of family violence that she has traced.

Ertuk and her delegation arrived in Riyadh last Thursday at the invitation of the Saudi government.

Calling for legislating laws to protect women from violence, she said, “I see more reforms coming to correct women’s conditions and status in the society … But we are still looking for more societies to come up for women’s protection.”

In another development, a delegation of visiting British parliamentarians was told by Saudi scholars that Saudi society was gradually opening up.

“What we are witnessing is a phenomenon, believe it or not,” the Arab News quoted Ehsan Abu Huleiga, a member of the Shoura Council, as telling the delegation when it visited the King Abdul Aziz Centre for National Dialogue.

“People were actually raising the question: ‘Are we going to really dismantle taboos in the discussions?’ And this was evident since the very beginning.”

He explained how the national forums were successful in bringing Saudis from different social strata and different Islamic schools of thought together to discuss in harmony vital issues related to national development, according to the newspaper.

“At first, they tried to avoid each other. Later on they were debating issues and at the end of the forum they were seen hugging one another,” he was quoted as saying.

As a result, Saudi society is opening up and accepting the fact that differences can be sorted out in a healthy environment within the framework of national unity, he said.

Secretary general of the Dialogue Centre Faisal ibn Muammar said that the idea behind setting up national dialogue forums was to get local people express their views about crucial topics related to the country’s development goals.

“The idea is to gather public opinion about various topics. We are also trying to expand the culture of dialogue in society,” ibn Muammar was quoted as telling the delegation.

“The ideas expressed at the forums are taken up with decision makers and are then followed up,” he said.