Saudi Arabia announces initiative to tackle guardianship abuses

The Public Prosecution Office has an integrated project to deal with guardianship abuse and to refer it to higher authorities, Attorney General Saud Al-Moajab said.
Wednesday 06/02/2019
Women walk past a poster of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during Janadriyah Cultural Festival on the outskirts of Riyadh, February 12, 2018. (Reuters)
Women walk past a poster of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during Janadriyah Cultural Festival on the outskirts of Riyadh, February 12, 2018. (Reuters)

LONDON - Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor is initiating a programme designed to address suspected abuses related to the country’s guardianship system.

Under the kingdom’s guardianship laws, women, in general, are assigned a male relative — often a father or husband but sometimes an uncle, brother or son — whose consent is required in important aspects of her life, including permission to marry, obtain a passport and travel abroad.

The Public Prosecution Office is developing an integrated project to deal with the suspected cases of guardianship abuse in preparation to refer it to higher authorities, Saudi Attorney General Saud al-Moajab said in a report in the English-language Saudi Gazette.

The Public Prosecution Office is working to protect individuals, whether women, children or parents, from unfair treatment by those who abuse guardianship powers, Moajab said February 3 during a workshop in Riyadh concerning guardianship abuse.

He said only a few complaints had been received about guardianship abuse, suggesting the acts are not widespread.

The Saudi Gazette said the workshop discussed the “definition of guardianship, the responsibilities and powers of a guardian according to sharia, forms of abuse of guardianship powers and their social and psychological effects, criminal accountability of the abuser, mechanisms for filing criminal cases, filing lawsuits against those who unjustly prevent women from getting married and their rights granted by sharia.”

In January, the kingdom’s guardianship system was the focus of the case of Rahaf Mohammed, 18, who was granted asylum in Canada after alleging abuse from family members, which they denied.

Many Saudis and Gulf Arabs expressed displeasure at the attention, saying a personal family matter had been politicised at the kingdom’s expense.

Also in January, Moajab ordered an investigation into an audio clip posted on social media of a young woman claiming she was the victim of domestic violence, Al Arabiya TV reported.

In the clip, a woman can be heard saying: “I never wanted to make this recording… I am suffering from constant physical bodily violence and verbal abuse from my father. Today he threatened me and wanted to burn me for the stupidest reason. I escaped from my bedroom window.”

There have been many policy changes the last several years affecting the way women are treated in Saudi Arabia, including the reversal of the women’s driving ban, easing aspects of the guardianship system, granting women independent access to government services, jobs, education and health care without the need for prior consent.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz emphasised that point in an interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes” in March 2018, in which he stressed equality of the sexes. “Absolutely,” he said. “We are all human beings and there is no difference.”