Saudi Arabia passes landmark domestic abuse law

Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers has passed a landmark ruling recognising domestic and other abuse as an offense to be investigated, prosecuted and punished by law.

Previously, the conservative kingdom regarded domestic abuse as a private matter, but under the new law all forms of physical, psychological and sexual abuse, as well as the threat of abuse, will be eligible for penal action, local media reported.

According to the Saudi Gazette, the Ministry of Social Affairs said convicted abusers will receive jail terms ranging from one month to one year, and/or fines between SR5,000 to SR50,000 ($1,333 to $13,000). For repeat offenders, the punishment will be doubled, while abusive parents may lose guardianship of their children.

In a statement to the Saudi Press Agency following the cabinet session, the Minister of Culture and Information Dr Abdulaziz Khoja said the law affords abuse victims provision for psychological, social and health care, as well as shelter.

The ruling comes just four months after the launch of a government-backed advertising campaign against domestic violence, which aimed to raise awareness of domestic violence and encourage victims to speak out.

The advertisements in the ‘No More Abuse’ campaign, a collaboration between King Khalid Foundation and advertising agency Memac Ogilvy, showed a woman wearing a full veil or niqab, with a blackened left eye. The accompanying caption read: “Some things can’t be covered.”

The legislation comes at a time of significant change in Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah in February swore in the first women members of the Shura Council, an appointed body that advises the government on new laws. In April, the Saudi Justice Ministry licensed its first female lawyer.