Laws must be enforced to curtail child abuse, say experts

Safeguarding children


Saudi Gazette report

DOMESTIC violence against children can be attributed to different psychological and social factors. Recently, several high-profile domestic violence cases involving children have surfaced in the local media and videos of children being abused physically and verbally have been circulated on social media websites. Al-Riyadh daily talked to several experts of varying backgrounds for their opinions on how to curtail and eventually eradicate domestic violence.

Ahmed Al-Mehaimeed, a legal counselor and member of the National Family Safety Program (NFSP), said the Kingdom enforces child protection laws in line with pertinent international conventions. The Saudi laws, he said, protect the health, education, labor and other rights of children and ensures their security and safety. The Saudi government enforces a law that fights human trafficking and bans any forms of child abuse or exploitation for illegal activities such as begging, he further added.

“The only problem is that some of the provisions in the child protection law have not been enforced as they should be. As a result, many people are not aware that such rules exist. The second problem is that we have several reports on child abuse and each report is issued from a different government agency or non-profit organization. An NFSP report mentioned a figure of 2,150 child abuse cases in the Kingdom. The report revealed that of the 422 reported child abuse cases, 396 cases took place at government health institutions,” he said.

Al-Mehaimeed believes that family disintegration is one of the reasons why domestic violence cases against children have risen in recent years. He called for raising public awareness of the laws that protect children’s rights.

Dr. Mansour Al-Dehaiman, a family counselor, believes that the rising number of domestic violence cases involving children can be attributed to the registration of these cases by health institutions, family centers, etc.

“Many people refrained from reporting child domestic abuse cases in the past due to social stigma. But people have shown a high level of awareness about bringing these cases to light and reporting them to the authorities in recent years. This is why we have a high number of such cases,” he explained.

The first Saudi law to protect children went into force in 1996. Government efforts to protect children’s rights started at universities, major hospitals and other vital sectors. Then the government formed sub-committees to set benchmarks similar to the ones in place in advanced countries. During the era of the late King Abdullah, the public began to hear a lot more about these laws and the protection they offered to victims.

The law issued in 1996 stated that victims of domestic violence should be rehabilitated and provided with all psychological help to get over any problems they may have developed as a result of such abuse. The law also calls upon sociologists and psychologists at hospitals to examine victims of domestic violence, find out the reasons behind the violence and study the cases in order to suggest ways to prevent recurrence of such violence.

Child labor

Lawyer Khalid Al-Shahrani said the Kingdom’s laws protect minors from being exploited but once someone turns 18, they are considered an adult and the protections offered by these laws no longer apply to them.

Minors are prevented from working in places that can endanger their health or lives, but Al-Shahrani said other age groups should also be given better protection.

"The labor system set the conditions for the employment of juveniles in Section 10 according to specific conditions, such as not to employ juveniles in dangerous jobs or harmful industries or places where their health is in danger due to the nature of the job. No one under the age of 15 is allowed to be employed. The ministry may, however, permit the employment of children between the ages of 13 and 15 in light work as long as their health or development is unharmed and there is no hindrance or interruption to their education,” he said.

“Prior to employing a juvenile, the employer must receive a number of documents: a national identity card or an official certificate of birth, a health certificate, and the consent of the juvenile’s guardian but if the person reaches the age of 18, he no longer needs the consent of the guardian for employment and he is no longer protected from being exploited in a dangerous work environment,” he added.

Violators of the Labor Law and its regulations and executive decisions shall be subjected to one or more of the penalties: a fine not exceeding SR100,000, the closure of the establishment for a period of more than 30 days and the closure of the establishment permanently. The penalty may be doubled if the offense is repeated.