A new criminal code is among the most significant changes in the UAE's legal reforms announced on Saturday.
It decriminalises consensual relationships outside marriage and stipulates that any child conceived as a result of such a partnership will be acknowledged and cared for, state news agency Wam reported.
Any couple who have a child outside marriage “will be required to marry or singly or jointly acknowledge the child and provide identification papers and travel documents in accordance with the laws of the country of which either is a national, considering the applicable laws of that nation”, Wam reported.
“Failing this, a criminal case would introduce a prison term of two years for both correspondents.”
The reforms, which come into effect on January 2, include more than 40 new laws that have far-reaching implications for life in the UAE.
Other amendments include greater protection for women and domestic workers, as well as public security and safety being strengthened.
Rapists face life imprisonment, which could be extended to a death sentence if the victim is under the age of 18 or in a condition in which they are unable to resist.
A prison term of no less than 10 years awaits anyone convicted of sexual assault on someone under the age of 18, disabled or in a position that they cannot offer resistance.
The law also applies to indecent assault on adults of both genders, which will result in jail sentences or fines of no less than Dh10,000.
If the threat or use of force is employed by the perpetrator in the course of their crime, they can be sentenced to anything between five and 20 years.