The UAE government is continuously reforming its legal system to match the global standards. It has emerged as a provider of a more conducive social environment for people visiting work and for holidays in the otherwise conservative Middle East. Many welcomed and applauded the changes as it is expected to bring in more foreign investments and global talents. One of the landmark changes in 2020 was the decriminalization of premarital sex and a change in regulations related to alcohol consumption. Prior to this amendment, these two activities topped the ‘things not to do in UAE’ list. Canceling leniency while dealing with honor-killing was another forward step towards the consolidated tolerance principle.
The law that became effective from 2nd January 2022 brought in the most extensive set of legislative reforms. The latest Federal Decree-Law no. 31 of 2021 of the UAE Penal Code aims to set legislative reforms. Unmarried parents, sexual assault, and extramarital relationships are the highlighted changes this new legislation covers. The reforms are directed towards the protection of women and domestic helpers. The law may also help strengthen the social cohesion and safety of people. Below are key provisions that have changed under the new penal code:
New elaborate definitions of rape
Rape can now be punished by life imprisonment under the new law. The penalty may increase to capital punishment if the following 4 conditions are met:
- If the victim is a minor (less than 18 years old).
- If the victim was unconscious at the time of the crime.
- If the victim was incapacitated or unable to resist.
- If the criminal is someone from the victim’s family, or caretaker, or employer, or anyone who has any authority over the victim.
The new law raises the legal age of puberty from 14 to 18. Thus all the victims of sexual assault under 18 years are considered minor now. It also expands the definitions of sexual assault crimes. The previous law only stipulates capital punishment for rape for women under the age of 14, which is now 18years. However, apart from the conditions mentioned above, now the convict faces life imprisonment.
Regulates extramarital relationships
Earlier, under Federal Law No. 3 of 1987, living with the partner was a criminal offense and punishable by 1 year imprisonment. However, with the 2020 amendment to the Federal Decree-Law no. 15, consensual relationships between unmarried couples are decriminalized. The recent update in the penal code regulates extramarital relations by providing the guardian or the spouse to file a lawsuit. With this new legal development, unmarried couples may face a jail term of up to 6 months if either party’s wife, husband, or custodian files a complaint against them. However, the charges only stand till the plaintiff decides to withdraw the charges. In such a situation, the case is either dismissed or postponed.
If the consensual sexual relationship happens between consenting individuals where one is underage (below 18 years), then the other is charged with sexual molestation charges. The offense is punishable by temporary imprisonment. The punishment increases if the offender is a caregiver, holds a position of authority over the victim, or the victim is a domestic help.
Parenting children born out of wedlock
The new provision regarding parenting children born to unmarried couples tries to fill in the gaps left by the 2020 amendment of decriminalizing sexual relationships between consenting unmarried people. The previous law did not set any provisions for the parenting of children of unmarried parents. The latest UAE penal code includes the provision for parenting for children born out of wedlock.
According to the updates, any couple conceiving a child out of wedlock may face a minimum of 2 years in jail, unless:
- the couple marries each other, or
- acknowledge the child jointly or separately, and
- provide baby’s identification paper, official documents, the passport that follows the country’s laws of which either is a national.
As of 2nd January 2022, failing to fulfill the criteria mentioned above may face criminal charges. Acknowledging a child is considered pivotal for parents to avoid a jail term.
The new law can be considered a significant overhaul of the country’s Islamic laws, broadening the personal freedom of habitants of the UAE. The new law has brought a significant shift in the applicable penal laws. It ensures the child born out-of-wedlock is acknowledged and will be cared for. The changes also reflect the efforts of the government to keep up with rapidly changing social norms in the UAE. According to our legal experts and lawyers, the law still does not clarify some of the questions. However, it is a positive step forward in the right direction.