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The New Arab

Survive rape in the UAE, and face jail

There are around 150,000 female domestic migrant workers in the UAE [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 October, 2015

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Analysis: The UAE is imprisoning women that have been raped, including many migrant workers, due to strict laws outlawing sex outside of marriage, according to a new investigation.
Rape survivors are being jailed in the UAE, in accordance with laws that criminalise sex outside of marriage, according to an investigation by BBC Arabic.

The women, many of whom are migrant workers, are accused of falling foul of the UAE's Sharia-based penal code that classifies extramarital sex as Zina, alongside adultery, fornication and homosexuality.

"Because the UAE authorities have not clarified what they mean by indecency, the judges can use their culture and customs and Sharia ultimately to broaden out that definition and convict people for illicit sexual relations or even acts of public affection," said Rothna Begum, women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch in London.
     It is standard practice in the UAE to shackle or chain women who have broken Zina laws, often as they lay in hospital


According to HRW, Zina laws violate international law, and are applied disproportionately to women - with pregnancy being used as proof that a "crime" has been committed.

There are no figures detailing how many people are prosecuted according to Zina laws, however the BBC's investigation, which will air at the opening of the BBC Arabic festival on 31 October, suggests hundreds of migrant women are imprisoned in the tiny emirate every year for extramarital sex.

The report included secret video evidence of a Filipina women accused of extra-marital sex with another Filipina walking into a UAE courtroom with her feet chained together.

A US activist who runs a shelter for vulnerable and abused women in the UAE said she had seen an Ethiopian woman who had been raped with her ankles chained to a hospital bed, hours after giving birth.

According to Begum it is standard practice in the UAE to shackle or chain women who have broken Zina laws or tried to run away from their employers.

The BBC said it received no response when it contacted the UAE government to discuss Zina laws and the treatment of migrant domestic workers.

There are around 150,000 female domestic migrant workers in the UAE who have been brought to the emirate through the much-criticised Kafala system.

This system leaves workers entirely dependent on their employer, and lacking proper legal protections. As a result, they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

In a series of interviews carried out with domestic workers in the UAE by Human Rights Watch in 2014, many said they worked long hours without overtime, had wages withheld, were confined to their employers' houses or were deprived of food or rest.

Some of the women, HRW concluded, "described situations that may amount to slavery under international law. Several workers said their employers seemed to think they had purchased them".

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