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Saudi princess speaks out on abuse

A strong voice is being heard on the issue of domestic violence, and it's not only female but royal.

In an interview with the Arab News, the princess was more specific. “In order to fight violence,” she said, “certain things should be taken into account like defining neglect and abuse. Reporting violence and abuse should be compulsory and there should be a witness protection program. All that of course has to be done with full regard and consideration for confidentiality.”

The seminal event for bringing spousal abuse into the open was last year’s forum. It was organized by the National Family Safety Program, an agency created by royal decree with the mandate to develop a national strategy for preventing family violence. Princess Adela serves as the program’s vice chair.

One of the program’s goals is to encourage Saudi women to speak out about abuse. This is increasingly occurring, according to Haifa A. al-Ashaikh, media coordinator of the program.

"Day after day we see lots of ladies here are getting more vocal," said Ashaikh, adding that this occurred as they realized that "they do have the ability to disagree with whatever they think is unfair to them."

There are no reliable national statistics on the incidence of domestic violence — either against children or women — in the kingdom, which was identified as a major problem during the recent workshop.

However, in just the area of Riyadh, the program has dealt with 150 family violence cases since 2006, Ashaikh said. They included physical abuse (40 percent), sexual abuse (17 percent) and neglect (40 percent).

Besides the need for better statistics, workshop attendees also cited other problems, including a lack of shelters for abuse victims, the need for clear definitions of abuse, and more education in schools and the media about the problem.

They also complained about “misunderstandings” about what Islamic law, or Shariah, says in regard to family violence.

Maha al-Muneef, a pediatrician who serves as executive director of the program, addressed this issue at the press conference.