Saudi Arabia has passed a landmark legislation aimed at protecting women, children and domestic workers against domestic abuse, a human rights official said on Thursday, in a move aimed at reducing hidden violence against women in the kingdom.
The “Protection from Abuse” law is the first of its kind in the ultra-conservative country, which has often faced international criticism for lacking laws that protect women and domestic workers against abuse.
The law, approved during a cabinet meeting on August 26, came several months after a local charity launched a nationwide campaign to combat violence against women. Under the 17-article bill, those found guilty of committing psychological or physical abuse could face prison sentences of up to one year and up to 50,000 riyals ($13,300) in fines.
“This is a good law that serves major segments of the society in the kingdom, including women, children, domestic workers and non-domestic workers,” Khaled al-Fakher, secretary general of the National Society for Human Rights, a government-licensed body, told Reuters.
Previously, domestic violence against women, children or domestic workers was treated under a general penal code based on Islamic sharia law.
Judges were left to decide according to their understanding of sharia codes, which were seen as permitting mild application of violence against “disobedient” wives and generally treated domestic violence as a private matter.