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Tue 14 Jul 2009 07:44 AM

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Saudi passes tough new human trafficking laws

Cabinet sets 15-year prison term and a one million riyal fine in trafficking clampdown.

Saudi Arabia announced tough new legal penalties for human trafficking on Monday, including up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

The cabinet also set a one million riyal ($266,666) fine, the official SPA news agency reported.

The definition of trafficking includes holding a person under control for sexual abuse, forced labour, involuntary begging, slavery or slavery-like practices, and enforced organ removal or medical experimentation.

The cabinet agreed that tougher penalties should apply where the offence was committed against a disabled person, a woman or spouse, or a child who was the victim of a parent or guardian.

The Saudi government has in the past been criticised for lacking anti-trafficking laws, despite frequent cases of alleged abuse particularly among the kingdom's seven to 10 million foreign workers, most of whom perform low-wage, low-skilled jobs.

A US State Department report published this year gave the kingdom its lowest ranking, saying that often foreigners are recruited legally to work in the country "but some subsequently face conditions indicative of involuntary servitude, including restrictions on movement, withholding of passports, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and non-payment of wages".

"Women, primarily from Asian and African countries, are also believed to have been trafficked into Saudi Arabia for commercial sexual exploitation," the report said.

"In addition, Saudi Arabia is a destination country for Nigerian, Yemeni, Pakistani, Afghan, Chadian, and Sudanese children trafficked for involuntary servitude as forced beggars and street vendors."

Second Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz said after the cabinet meeting that the new law "embodies the principles of Islamic Sharia law which prohibit attacks on the rights of another human being."

It enables the kingdom to "protect the rights of its citizens and residents under Islamic law," SPA quoted him as saying.

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MKB 11 years ago

it is never too late. wish they had introduced it long long time back. hope they implement it vigorously, though!

KA 11 years ago

This is good to see and typical of the wise and positive changes being made under King Abdullah. However, it will take time before most of the population realise that even such things as taking a housemaid across an international border without her express permission is "trafficking". A major change of mindset will be required before the bulk of the Saudi population accept that a highly educated Arab male must ask permission of an illiterate Asian female before taking the family, plus maids, to, say, Bahrain or Dubai for some shopping. Equally, if a passport is witheld and travel is restricted then just the act of not paying salary on time to workers, instantly makes their case one of forced servitude and, thus, illegal. Even in UAE where minister after minister have been telling us for a year that taking away passports is a crime, the process is still normal practice and the press recently reported a case of some maids officially charged with "stealing back" their passports from their employer amongst other "crimes". So, while these may be laudable aims, I hope everybody appreciates that it will take time to instill these high values in the general population and that nobody expects to see high ranking citizens thrown into jail any time soon for not paying a maid, driver or other employee exactly on time.