National Sexual Rights Law and Policy Database

Saudi Arabia

List of countries

Select a topic:

Adult sex work edit topic

Evaluation code: Selling and buying sexual services criminalized

Topic tags:

  • Customary and Religious Laws

Which approach is taken?edit question

Selling and buying sexual services criminalized.

Both the buying and selling of sex are illegal in shari’ah and, therefore, in Saudi Arabia. Profiting from another person’s prostitution is also illegal. All sex outside of marriage is strictly prohibited under Islamic shari’ah, which forms the basis of Saudi’s legislative framework (Trust Law et al, Overview of Trafficking and Prostitution Laws in the Middle East).

The 2009 Suppression of the Trafficking of Persons Act covers a broader range of offenses, including prostitution. This law states that women arrested under prostitution offences face imprisonment and/or corporal punishments (US State Department, 2013 Saudi Arabia Trafficking in Persons Report).

If partial/total criminalization or an other punitive regulation, which acts are criminalized? How severe is the punishment?edit question

There does not seem to be one, prescribed punishment, although the above cited sources indicate that imprisonment and corporal punishment are possible punishments.

If not criminalized, is there regulation?edit question

N/A

Could customary and/or religious law apply?edit question

CRL applies.

See all information above.

Adultery edit topic

Evaluation code: Yes

Topic tags:

  • Customary and Religious Laws

Is adultery a criminal offense?edit question

Yes.

There is no written penal code in Saudi Arabia; adultery (zina) is punishable by death under Islamic shari’ah. Death sentences for adultery have been carried out by stoning.

What is the burden of proof?edit question

One of the following is required: a confession from the accused OR 4 male witnesses/8 female witness (Independent SRHR expert, Egypt).

How severe is the punishment?edit question

Death.

Could customary and/or religious law apply?edit question

CRL applies.

See all information above.

Evaluation code: Marriage

Topic tags:

  • Marriage
  • Customary and Religious Laws

What is the age of sexual consent?edit question

Marriage.

Sex outside of marriage of any sort is considered ‘zina’ - a hudud crime for which shari’ah prescribes a punishment of 100 lashes for adulterers who are unmarried and death by stoning for those who are married (Elizabeth Peiffer, The Death Penalty in Traditional Islamic Law and as Interpreted by Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, 2005).

Are there defenses/exceptions?edit question

Marriage.

See above.

Could customary and/or religious law apply?edit question

CRL applies.

See all information above.

Evaluation code: No information

Topic tags:

  • Legally restricted
  • Customary and Religious Laws

What is the age of sexual consent?edit question

No information.

Are there defenses/exceptions?edit question

Legally restricted.

Homosexuality and same-sex sexual acts are illegal in Saudi Arabia and punishable by death (International Lesbian and Gay Association, State Sponsored Homophobia 2015, page 28).

Could customary and/or religious law apply?edit question

CRL applies.

Conscientious Objection edit topic

Evaluation code: No information

Is there a law or policy that permits health professionals to conscientiously object to the provision of any sexual and/or reproductive health service? If so, are there referrals or emergency service requirements?edit question

No information.

Where is this provision found?edit question

N/A

What are the grounds for refusal to provide an sexual and reproductive health service?edit question

N/A

Could customary and/or religious law apply?edit question

No Customary and religious law / No information

Contraception edit topic

Evaluation code: No information

Are any contraceptives prohibited in the country?edit question

No information.

Article 31 of the Basic Law of Governance obliges the government to look after health and provide healthcare to all citizens. In late 2014, it was reported that the King of Saudi Arabia was considering a birth control policy given the doubling of the country’s population over the past two decades (Arabian Business, Saudi Arabia mulls birth control policy, 2014). To date, no such policy or regulations exist guaranteeing access to contraception.

Are there legal restrictions on contraceptives?edit question

No information.

What contraceptives are available? Are there restrictions?edit question

No information, though restrictions on access to contraception are likely for unmarried persons.

Could customary and/or religious law apply?edit question

No Customary and religious law / No information

Crimes committed in the name of honour and passion edit topic

Evaluation code: Mitigation

Topic tags:

  • Customary and Religious Laws

Does the law provide for a complete defense to or mitigation of sentences for gender-based violence offenses based on honour, passion, provocation, loss of control or other similar factors?edit question

Mitigation.

The application of Islamic shari’ah utilised in Saudi Arabia is in accordance with the Sunni tradition of Hanbali. Judges rely on the Qu’ran and the Sunnah (the teachings and precedents of the Prophet Muhammad) as well as the works of Hanbali scholars in order to interpret the law and are given discretion in adjudicating cases (Globalex, A Brief Overview of the Saudi Arabian Legal System). Whilst this does not constitute ‘mitigation’ as understood in modern criminal law, the discretion afforded to judges allows for an inordinate amount of subjectivity in criminal sentencing. Further, evidence from previous cases (e.g. the Qatif Girl case) demonstrates that judges often punish female rape victims for crimes related to honour or indecency (e.g. being alone with an unrelated male).

In 2014, a new law banning domestic abuse took effect in Saudi Arabia; prior to this, judges used their own interpretations of uncodified shariah law to determine which acts were criminalized. The law ‘sets the penalty for domestic abuse at between one month and one year in prison and/or a fine of between 5,000 ($1333) and 50,000 ($13,330) Saudi Riyals unless Sharia law provides for a harsher sentence. Judges can double the specified penalties for repeat offenders.’ (Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia: New Law to Criminalize Domestic Abuse, 2013).

Could customary and/or religious law apply?edit question

CRL applies. See above

Marital rape edit topic

Evaluation code: No

Topic tags:

  • Customary and Religious Laws

Is marital rape criminalized?edit question

No.

There is no written penal code in Saudi Arabia. Rape is punishable by death under Islamic shari’ah; however, sentences vary widely and are set at the discretion of the judge(s) in each individual case. Islamic shari’ah, which forms the basis of the law in Saudi Arabia, holds that a wife must always obey her husband, including in relation to sexual relations (Cristina Scalamandre, Presentation: Marital Rape: Saudi Arabia and New York).

What is the burden of proof? Is it the same or different from rape outside of marriage?edit question

In rape cases, the burden of proof lies with the victim; a man’s confession or the testimony of four male witnesses or eight female witnesses is required.

In 2006, a young woman from Qatif was sentenced to 90 lashes after being kidnapped and gang-raped; when appealed, her sentence was increased to 200 lashes and six months in prison, though this was never carried out due to a royal pardon (Eleanor Abdella Doumato, Saudi Arabia).

How severe is the punishment for marital rape? Is it the same or different from rape outside of marriage?edit question

N/A

Could customary and/or religious law apply?edit question

CRL applies.

See information above.

Sexuality education edit topic

Evaluation code: No information

Does the legal framework protect the right to education?edit question

The Basic Law of Governance of Saudi Arabia does state the purpose of education, but does not ascribe it as a right of citizens.

The Basic Law of Governance, Article 13: The aim of education is to implant the Islamic Creed in the hearts of all youths, to help them acquire knowledge and skills, to qualify them to become useful members of their society, to love their homeland and take pride in its history.

Is there a law or policy mandating the government (or its regulatory bodies) to implement sexuality education? Is there a law or policy prohibiting the government (or its regulatory bodies) from implementing sexuality education?edit question

No information.

Does the law mandate the provision of sexuality education to certain age groups? If so, which ones? Does the law prohibit the provision of sexuality education to certain age groups? If so, which ones?edit question

No information.

Does the law mandate the provision of education on certain topics? If so, which ones? Does the law prohibit the provision of education on certain topics? If so, which ones?edit question

No information.

Could customary and/or religious law apply?edit question

No Customary and religious law / No information

Third party authorization for sexual and reproductive health services - general edit topic

Evaluation code: No information

Is third party authorization in order to access any sexual and reproductive health services?edit question

No information.

Evaluation code: No information

Topic tags:

  • Customary and Religious Laws

Do young people require the consent of their parents or legal guardians in order to access any sexual and reproductive health service?edit question

No information.

Whilst no formal laws exist mandating parental consent, the prohibition of sex outside of marriage described in other sections of this report supports the conclusion that unmarried young people are not able to access sexual and reproductive health services. Further, an edict (fatwa) issued by the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in early 2014 bans women from visiting health clinics or hospitals without a male guardian. Male guardians must be ‘next of kin’ - i.e. sons, grandsons, husbands, fathers, brothers or uncles. Islamic law also prohibits women from exposing body parts to male doctors, including during childbirth (Arab News, Women’s Visits to Hospitals without Male Guardians Banned, 2014).

Could customary and/or religious law apply?edit question

CRL applies.

See above information.

Evaluation code: No information

Do young people require the consent of their parents or legal guardians in order to access oral contraceptives?edit question

No information.

Are there exceptions?edit question

N/A

Evaluation code: No information

Do young people require the consent of their parents or legal guardians in order to access intrauterine devices?edit question

No information.

Are there exceptions?edit question

N/A

Evaluation code: No information

Do young people require the consent of their parents or legal guardians in order to access hormonal implants?edit question

No information.

Are there exceptions?edit question

N/A

Evaluation code: No information

Do young people require the consent of their parents or legal guardians in order to access emergency contraception?edit question

No information.

Are there exceptions?edit question

N/A

Evaluation code: No information

Topic tags:

  • Legally restricted

Do young people require the consent of their parents or legal guardians in order to access abortion?edit question

No information.

Are there exceptions?edit question

Legally restricted.

Abortion is allowed only within the first 40 days of a pregnancy and only in cases where the woman’s health is at risk. For the remainder of the pregnancy, abortion is available in cases where the woman’s life is at risk (Harvard Population Policy Database, Saudi Arabia). Certain procedures and protocols for authorization apply, including written consent from the woman and her husband or male guardian (UN Population Division Population Policies, Saudi Arabia).

Evaluation code: No information

Do young people require the consent of their parents or legal guardians in order to access sterilization?edit question

No information.

Are there exceptions?edit question

N/A

Evaluation code: No information

Do young people require the consent of their parents or legal guardians in order to access HIV testing?edit question

No information.

Are there exceptions?edit question

N/A

Evaluation code: No information

Do young people require the consent of their parents or legal guardians in order to access sexually transmitted infections testing?edit question

No information.

Are there exceptions?edit question

N/A

Evaluation code: No information

Topic tags:

  • Customary and Religious Laws

Is the consent of a spouse/partner/father of the child required in order to access any sexual and reproductive health service?edit question

No information.

No formal laws exist mandating spousal consent. However, an edict (fatwa) issued by the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in early 2014 bans women from visiting health clinics or hospitals without a male guardian. Male guardians must be ‘next of kin’ - i.e. sons, grandsons, husbands, fathers, brothers or uncles. Islamic law also prohibits women from exposing body parts to male doctors, including during childbirth (Arab News, Women’s Visits to Hospitals without Male Guardians Banned, 2014).

Could customary and/or religious law apply?edit question

CRL applies. See above.

Evaluation code: No information

Is the consent of a spouse, intimate partner or biological father/mother of the child required to access oral contraceptives?edit question

No information.

Are there exceptions?edit question

N/A

Evaluation code: No information

Is the consent of a spouse, intimate partner or biological father/mother of the child required to access intrauterine devices?edit question

No information.

Are there exceptions?edit question

N/A

Evaluation code: No information

Is the consent of a spouse, intimate partner or biological father/mother of the child required to access hormonal implants?edit question

No information.

Are there exceptions?edit question

N/A

Evaluation code: No information

Is the consent of a spouse, intimate partner or biological father/mother of the child required to access emergency contraception?edit question

No information.

Are there exceptions?edit question

N/A

Evaluation code: No information

Topic tags:

  • Legally restricted

Is the consent of a spouse, intimate partner or biological father/mother of the child required to access abortion?edit question

No information.

Are there exceptions?edit question

Legally restricted.

Abortion is allowed only within the first 40 days of a pregnancy and only in cases where the woman’s health is at risk. For the remainder of the pregnancy, abortion is available in cases where the woman’s life is at risk (Harvard Population Policy Database, Saudi Arabia). Certain procedures and protocols for authorization apply, including written consent from the woman and her husband or male guardian (UN Population Division Population Policies, Saudi Arabia).

Evaluation code: No information

Is the consent of a spouse, intimate partner or biological father/mother of the child required to access sterilization?edit question

No information.

Are there exceptions?edit question

N/A

Evaluation code: No information

Is the consent of a spouse, intimate partner or biological father/mother of the child required to access HIV testing?edit question

No information.

Are there exceptions?edit question

N/A

Evaluation code: No information

Is the consent of a spouse, intimate partner or biological father/mother of the child required to access sexually transmitted infections testing?edit question

No information.

Are there exceptions?edit question

N/A