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Need to raise awareness on child abuse, says expert
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 07 - 09 - 2013


Laura Bashraheel
Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — The annual Human Rights Commission (HRC) report has criticized the condition of children and women protection in the Kingdom.
The report comes in the wake of the recent Council of Minister's move to institute a law against domestic violence or any form of abuses. The new law guarantees protection from various kinds of abuses and provide assistance and treatment to the victims of abuse.
As per the law, all forms of exploitation as well as physical, psychological and sexual abuse or threat of abuse would be treated as an offense, sources at the Ministry of Social Affairs told Saudi Gazette.
According to the new law, abusers will get a minimum jail term of one month and a maximum of one year or fines ranging between SR5,000 and SR50,000 or both. In case of repetition of the crime, the punishment will be doubled.
The HRC report targets all aspects of human rights, talks about the right of protection against domestic abuse and states that guardianship system places children and women, who are mostly subjected to abuse, legally under the protection of a male guardian.
Most claims are centered on the abuse of guardians of women and children — especially that many guardians are not adults or eligible to take care of a family.
The report states that procedures for protecting abused women and children didn't live up to expectations. In most cases it is slow, hindered by complicated procedures, lack specialists in charge of following up on cases or lack enough shelters.
It also criticizes the unprofessional and slow response of the abuse reporting hotline launched by the General Directorate for Social Protection of the Ministry of Social Affairs.
In addition, it said that asking for a legal guardian to be present in most governmental procedures made many women susceptible to exploitation and abuse.
The HRC has received around 328 complaints on family abuse cases last year — 3.9 percent of total complaints. As for child abuse cases, including bad treatment and neglecting children, the HRC has monitored 616 cases from all child protection centers in Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh topped with 290 cases (150 male and 140 female) followed by the Eastern Province with 124 cases (57 male and 67 female). Makkah came third with 100 cases (52 male and 48 female). Jazan recorded 30 cases while Al-Jouf recorded a lone female case.
Saudi Arabia, the report says, has signed several international agreements and charters for child protection from all forms of abuse, while citing that HRC cooperates with the Ministry of Education to raise awareness on child abuse
Hind Khalifa, a lecturer at King Abdulaziz University's faculty of education and psychology major, believes the law against abuse is a great step but until laws are applied she remains unsure about its impact.
“We are in a place where there is no applying of rules no matter how many rules they approve,” she said.
Khalifa, who released in 2009 an awareness book on child sexual assault for children to be able to differentiate between what could be considered as a sexual behavior from an adult, said: “In the end it's a matter of applying the rules. When the specialists receive a case of a child who is being sexually abused by his father and he is put in jail for his crime, then we would be optimistic.”
Khalifa has seen many cases where the law has not done anything to fathers who abuse their daughters for example. “The past has been unhelpful. We have to wait for the law to be applied and see results,” she said.
Khalifa's book is entitled “Don't touch me” and it shows examples in a simple language as not to affect their age with attached drawings to illustrate the appropriate and non-appropriate behaviors from adults.
After five years of the book release, Khalifa, who has been in the educational field for 13 years where she started tackling child abuse issues in an attempt to raise awareness among parents, said that the book was successful and it's expected to reach different areas of the Kingdom as well as Qatar and United Arab Emirates.
Her views on the need for societal awareness was echoed by Nahed Kamal Enani, head of Al-Safa neighborhood center. She said that the center holds workshops and awareness sessions for women regarding domestic abuse and human rights.
“We try to tell mothers that your children are precious and you should protect them and never trust anyone with your children — even relatives and maids. Usually, those who sexually exploit a child are the closest to them like a father or an uncle. We try to teach them how to defend themselves by screaming or even hitting the abuser,” she said.
Enani believes that there is not enough awareness among families when it comes to human rights. “There are so many thing that would change with the new law but we just have to wait,” she added.


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