Editor’s Note: In the previous draft of this article, the actions were presented accurately except for the location. It was mentioned that Ryadh was the UAE's capital but it's actually Abu Dhabi. We apologize for this inaccurate information.
On November 27, Saturday, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced the arrival of a new criminal code, effective January 2022. The announcement also included a sweeping change towards laws on pre-marital relationships—a pivotal change coming from a Muslim-majority country where pre-marital sex is heavily punished.
Emirates News Agency (WAM), the official news outlet of the UAE, announced that the government would update more than 40 laws ranging from economic, commercial, industrial, and social laws.
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of the UAE, approved the wide-ranging legal reforms in what is called the "largest legislative reform in [UAE's] history." According to WAM, Al Nahyan's goal is "to strengthen economic, investment and commercial opportunities." The plan also includes "maximizing social stability, security and ensuring the rights of both individuals and institutions."
The sweeping legislative revisions resulted from more than five months of simultaneous consultations between different levels of federal and local government and hundreds of organizations from the private sectors.
The Dawn reported that aside from what Al Nahyan announced through state news media, the other reason for the sweeping legislative changes in their larger neighbor to the west. In August this year, Saudi Arabia announced licensing 44 international companies to open regional headquarters in Riyadh.
Earlier this month, UAE also announced a "revolutionary" secular family law that sets Riyadh, UAE's capital, as a lucrative destination for ex-pats and other foreigners to live and work. The most welcomed change in this new law is that it allows for more comprehensive protection of women's rights.
The UAE is also slated to roll out an updated Federal Crime and Punishment Law to enhance the "protections for women and domestic servants." The revised Federal Crime and Punishment law will also ease restrictions on extra-marital relationships, including pre-marital sex.
According to WAM, the incoming changes to the Federal Crime and Punishment Law will "effectively decriminalize consensual relationships out of wedlock." However, the UAE demands that "any child conceived as a result of the relationship is acknowledged and cared for" by any parent.
Aside from guaranteeing that the child will be taken care of, the new changes to the law will also require the couple engaged in pre-marital sex to marry each other. Otherwise, both parties will be required to acknowledge the child and provide identification papers and travel documents.
Failure from both parties to either marry or acknowledge the child and provide necessary documents will result in a criminal case.
The updates also impose harsher sentences for sexual assault crimes. Rape cases whose victims are underage now constitute life sentences. Indecent assault "regardless of the victim's gender" will be recognized under the updated Federal Crime and Punishment Law and will carry a prison sentence and minimum 10 thousand Dirhams fine.