By Sabria S. Jawhar
22 January 2015
The Shoura Council recently rejected an extreme proposal to help curb domestic violence by installing surveillance cameras in homes.
Shoura Council member Mofleh Al-Rashidi made the recommendation as a “security measure to protect citizens and residents.”
Al-Rashidi’s recommendation really has no business in Saudi society, although British authorities in recent years seem to take particular pleasure in installing cameras in homes where students have a record of truancy. So the practice is not unheard of.
Seriously, though, Saudis simply would not stand for it mainly because everybody knows that videotapes often find their way onto YouTube and other social media platforms. So what you had for breakfast and what you choose to wear on any day, particularly morning, will be available for the entire world to see.
Although the Shoura Council was right to reject the proposal, Al-Rashidi’s frustration with the lack of progress in combating domestic violence is understandable.
A recent survey of Saudis found that up to 45 percent of Saudi children have been the victims of violence. Fifty percent of the respondents say they believe domestic violence is increasing and a whopping 72 percent said they have sent their children to help centres as safe havens. If there is any good news coming from these grim statistics, the survey found that 84 percent of the families that endured domestic violence called the police.
The problem is — as always — the Saudi judicial system is ill equipped to deal with domestic violence. In some cases, judges side with the abuser, tacitly endorsing violence against women and children.
However, there has been some movement by the Ministry of Social Affairs to address the problem. The ministry recently proposed to set up a special executive committee to focus on domestic violence and create a plan for intervention.
Now most Saudis are sceptical of government committees that do plenty of talking but take little action to solve issues. So we must take the true value of such committees with a grain of salt. But one key aspect that would go a long way toward protecting victims of domestic violence is to have a specific, codified law that all judges must follow. Rather than relying on instinct, personal experience (and personal prejudices) and one’s own interpretation of the Shariah, domestic violence laws would take that away from judges.
This is nothing new since the Ministry of Judicial Affairs has been struggling for nearly a decade to develop codified laws with apparently no significant progress to report.
Yet coherent domestic violence laws are only part of the solution. While municipal police departments are better in responding to calls of domestic violence, there continues to be little follow-up to ensure victims are protected. Women’s shelters are little more than prisons and children are usually returned to their abuser. In essence, we as a society have no idea what to do with abuse victims who have no place to live. Saudi society frowns upon women living alone, leaving few opportunities to remain safe. Judges compound the problem by urging reconciliation and obedience without understanding the family dynamic.
We must applaud Shoura Council members, like Mofleh Al-Rashidi, who believe the only way to prod the government into action is to suggest extreme measures. The practical application of such measures is besides the point. We are adrift and straying from our Islamic principles as more and more families fall prey to violence and yet we as a society seem to lack the wherewithal to take a stand to protect them.