Women welcome Saudi Arabia's new personal status laws

Announced on Tuesday by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the legislation will come into effect 90 days after its publication

A Saudi woman holds a flag as she commemorates the first Founding Day in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia February 22, 2022.  REUTERS / Ahmed Yosri
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Women have praised the new personal status laws launched by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which are expected to help make families more stable, further empower females and promote civil rights.

The Saudi Cabinet announced on Tuesday that it had passed the personal status laws as well as amendments to other legislation related to the protection of women and children.

The new measures will help to open more jobs to Saudi women and solidify their standing in the legal system, allowing them to run family affairs with full independence, legal experts said.

The Crown Prince said the changes are "comprehensive in addressing all the problems that the family and women were suffering from".

The laws cover issues of alimony, giving child custody rights to mothers and other protections to women who file for divorce.

They also outline requirements such as the obligation for a husband to provide food, housing, clothing and other necessities for his wife, even if she is wealthy, as per Islamic law.

"All the new laws are now in favour of divorced women who are struggling emotionally and financially, such as those raising children on their own without any childcare payment from the father, or being deprived of their children completely," said Salwa Hashem, a Saudi entrepreneur in Jeddah.

"Men often use ambiguity and loose construction in our legislation to evade justice," Ms Hashem said.

"My friend hasn't seen her kids since her divorce and her former husband has since remarried, kept the children at his house and doesn't allow their mother to speak to them or visit."

Crown Prince Mohammed said the laws will come into effect 90 days after publication.

"As soon as I heard the news last night I called my friend and we feel positive that these changes will help women at large to get justice," said Ms Hashem.

"We are waiting to see what's outlined in 90 days."

The absence of a clear legal framework has been “painful for many individuals and families, especially women, permitting some to evade their responsibilities”, the Crown Prince said earlier.

The four laws that have been overhauled include the personal status law, civil transactions law, penal code of discretionary sanctions and law of evidence.

In the past six years Saudi Arabia has introduced various laws designed to promote women's rights.

Girls under the age of 18 cannot be married off, although teenagers have the right to marry a person of their choice without any interference.

They can file lawsuits, review their marriage contracts and clerics cannot marry women without a verbal confirmation.

"Things are changing," Somayya Youssef, a Saudi marketing major in Riyadh told The National.

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"The new personal law will help women who are divorced to become legal guardians of their children, demand alimony rights and child care support.

"Women are no longer legally required to ask for permission to travel, marry or make personal choices- who they want to marry can no longer be a family decision, she can go to court and do what she wants," she added.

The personal status law, passed on Tuesday, will come into effect 90 days after its publication, Crown Prince Mohammed said.

Updated: March 09, 2022, 2:54 PM