ABU DHABI // Prosecutors called for a new law on domestic abuse after it was revealed on Sunday that the number of cases had nearly tripled in three years.
The new law would bring all offences involving families under one umbrella, and standardise sentences for offenders.
A number of existing laws cover abuse against spouses, children and siblings, but offences and sentences are haphazard.
To address the issue, a recommendation has been sent to the Attorney General to initiate a family abuse law, Mohammed Al Danhani, head of family prosecution at Abu Dhabi Public Prosecution, said yesterday.
The new law would apply to anyone found guilty of beating, threatening or kidnapping a member of their family.
The number of cases involving abuse of spouses or children increased from 313 in 2010 to 840 last year, Mr Al Danhani said. Husbands abusing their wives was the most common offence in 2013, with 507 cases involving physical attacks, verbal insults, defamation and threats.
He also called for more shelters to be built to offer refuge to victims of abuse who would be at risk if they returned home.
Another family prosecutor, Alia Al Kaabi, said the laws covering electronic crime also required clarification.
“The law prosecutes anyone who enters the social network page of another without their permission. Spouses are not exempt, but they are not mentioned specifically in the law,” Ms Al Kaabi said.
Mr Al Danhani attributed some of the increase in domestic abuse to more women entering the workplace.
If, for example, the wife starts going out to work, the husband might become jealous of her success, especially if she earns a higher salary than he does, she said.
“He may start arguing with her about why she needs to go out to work when his salary is enough, and how that has affected her duties towards him and at home … this all increases tension between the couple, which leads to violence.”
Mr Al Danhani said the increasing cost of living may also be a factor. If his wife and children were making constant demands for material goods, the husband might be forced to take out a loan.
“This increases the pressure on him which creates tendency to use violence,” he said.
Peer pressure from the wife’s acquaintances, especially if she has single or divorced friends, is another common factor, he said.
“The wife will want to copy them by going out of the house a lot, staying out late, and that provokes the husband.”
Abuse against husbands is not excluded from these figures but is so rare “no percentage can even be made for such cases”, he said.
Ms Al Kaabi also suspected most abuse within families goes unreported. "Yet we can only analyse from the cases that are presented in front of us," she said.
“Abuse against women is not necessarily physical and causes bloodshed, by hand or using a weapon. It could also be through emotional abuse and insulting words.”
As for cases of parents attacking their children, Ms Al Kaabi said they tended to arise from “problems at home and lack of dialogue and care from the parents’ side”.
Mr Al Danhani said there had been a number of recent cases of parents seriously injuring or even killing a child when trying to discipline them.
“It is true that Article 53 of the penal code gives the right to parents to discipline their children but there are many conditions for that,” he said.
First, such discipline should only be applied to children who are 15 and under.
Secondly, the disciplining should be for a valid reason and not in the form of severe beating. It should not leave any scars or injuries, and not exceed three hits on the body.
Also, one can hit a child only with one’s hand and not instruments such as whips or canes.
“If there was a single mark from the disciplining it is considered abuse and the person is prosecuted,” said Mr Al Danhani.
The statistics show that only 10 per cent of the abuse cases involve UAE nationals.
“Domestic violence is a real and pervasive problem that affects millions … across the globe,” said Dr Deema Sihweil, a clinical psychologist and director of the Carbone Clinic in Dubai Healthcare City.
“The good news is reports in the region are rising, with the awareness that there are international programmes that most governments adopt to offer shelter for women and children, particularly in the UAE.”
Many people fear involving the authorities in what they consider private matters, mainly because of misconceptions about women’s rights, culture and religion, Dr Sihweil said.
“The Government is adopting international human rights programmes and the laws are constantly shifting towards offering women and children the safe choice of reporting and enlisting help from the authorities.
“Issues of abuse of any form must be addressed at as early a stage as possible in educational settings to break the cycles of torment that too many people experience.
“However, I do notice that more victims of abuse are seeking help and recognising that they are not alone and can get out of the insidious trap of abusive relationships.”
* Additional reporting by Jennifer Bell