Corporal Punishment Of Children: Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Index - Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia should clearly prohibit corporal punishment of children by law and enforce the prohibition.

During its UN Universal Periodic Review in 2018, the Saudi Arabia delegation stated that corporal punishment was prohibited at schools under the 2013 Law of Protection from Abuse, which does not clearly address the issue, and the 2015 Child Protection Act.[1] The Child Protection Act of 2015 prohibits "maltreatment," "using abusive language to humiliate or degrade a child," and "any act that may threaten the child’s safety or physical or psychological wellbeing" as child abuse (arts. 2, 3).[2] Notwithstanding the Child Protection Act, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child concluded in 2016 that "corporal punishment remains lawful in all settings," and called on the government to prohibit all corporal punishment and to introduce "sustained" public-education campaigns on corporal punishment and positive discipline.[3]

During the UN Universal Periodic Review in 2009, Saudi Arabia accepted recommendations to prohibit corporal punishment in schools, but stated that it had done so already: "Corporal punishment is prohibited in all governmental and private schools as well as in nursery schools and child care institutions." At its subsequent review in 2013, the government did not accept recommendations to prohibit corporal punishment in all settings, including as a judicial punishment.[4] In 2020 Saudi Arabia eliminated flogging as a punishment in "discretionary" judgements.

Schools are instructed not to use corporal punishment in circulars issued by the Ministry of Education, which prescribe penalties for beating or ill-treating children.[5] News articles have cited Saudi academics and lawyers who affirm that students may not be subject to violent discipline.[6] The government has launched several initiatives against violence in schools, including a "No Hit Zone" program.[7]

Despite the Education Ministry’s prohibition, studies indicate a high prevalence of corporal punishment in schools. As of 2016, 60 percent of intermediate school students were exposed to violence and verbal attacks at school, a survey found.[8] A study from November 2015 found that 20.8 percent of students had been subjected to physical punishment in school. From 2010 to 2017, the number of corporal punishment incidents in schools recorded by the ministry rose from 1,406 cases to 4,528.[9] However, the report of the official National Society for Human Rights for 2018 lists only 7 cases of violence against children in schools in Riyadh and 17 cases by a professor in Medina.[10]

[1] Law of Protection from Abuse, Royal Decree No. M/52, Dated 15/11/1434H – 21/9/2013, available from  https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:RX0nr9MgNkUJ:https://www.nfsp.org.sa/ar/awareness/DocLib/english_law.pdf+&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=gr (accessed March 7, 2021).

[2] Child protection policy: Royal decree no (14/m) of 3/2/1436 https://laws.boe.gov.sa/BoeLaws/Laws/LawDetails/2d3cb83a-0379-4cde-8e0b-a9a700f272bd/1; see also Global Initiative to End all Corporal Punishment of Children, updated March 2018

[3] Committee on the Rights of the Child, "Concluding observations on the combined third and fourth periodic reports of Saudi Arabia," October 25, 2016, Para. 28, http://www.unesco.org/education/edurights/index.php?action=countries&lng=en

[4] https://www.upr-info.org/sites/default/files/document/saudi_arabia/session_17_-_october_2013/a_hrc_25_3_saudiarabia_e.pdf

[5] Global Initiative to End all Corporal Punishment of Children, updated March 2018

[6] Arab News, "Many speak out against corporal punishment at schools," February 16, 2017, http://www.arabnews.com/saudi-arabia/news/881836; Ameera Abid and Aisha Fareed, "Corporal punishment sparks debate in education circles in Saudi Arabia," Arab News, September 7, 2019, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1550781/saudi-arabia

[7] "Corporal punishment sparks debate in education circles in Saudi Arabia," op cit; Saudi Ministry of Education Launches "Rifaq" Program to Reduce Violence in Schools https://basaer-online.com/2015/08/%D9%88%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D8%B9%D9%88%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%B7%D9%84%D9%82-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D9%86%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%AC-%D8%B1/

[8] Arab News, '60% of school students exposed to violence', September 7, 2016, http://www.arabnews.com/node/981246/saudi-arabia

[9] New Khalij, "Saudi Schools: Teacher and Student are victims of a lack of deterrence," February 28, 2017, https://thenewkhalij.news/article/60693 (accessed July 25, 2019)

[10] https://nshr.org.sa/infocenter/wp-content/uploads/1-5.pdf, p. 46.

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