United Arab Emirates
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, which is punishable by death under the penal code. The penal code does not address spousal rape.
The penal code allows men to use physical means, including violence, at their discretion against female and minor family members. Punishments issued by courts in domestic abuse cases were often minimal. In some cases police shared a victim’s contact information with her/his family, which sometimes reached the assailant.
In general the government did not enforce domestic abuse laws effectively, and domestic abuse against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem. For example, in July local media reported a case of domestic abuse of a woman in Ajman. Her husband reportedly beat her, starved her, and forced her to work for his business without pay. There were reports employers raped or sexually assaulted foreign domestic workers. These cases rarely went to court, and those that did led to few convictions. In one such conviction in January, a man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for repeatedly raping his maid. In sharia courts, which are primarily responsible for civil matters between Muslims, the extremely high burden of proof for a rape case contributed to a low conviction rate. Additionally, female victims of rape or other sexual crimes faced the possibility of prosecution for consensual sex outside marriage instead of receiving assistance from authorities. For example, the Dubai Court of Cassation reduced a one-year prison sentence to a six-month prison sentence against a Gulf woman accused of consensual sex after accusing a Gulf man of raping her.
Victims of domestic abuse may file complaints with police units stationed in major public hospitals. Social workers and counselors, usually female, also maintained offices in public hospitals and police stations. There were domestic abuse centers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah, and Sharjah.
The government, in coordination with social organizations, sought to increase awareness of domestic violence, conducting seminars, educational programs, symposiums, and conferences. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children increased awareness of domestic violence through social media, television, radio programming, and advertising; by hosting workshops; and sponsoring a hotline.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not address FGM/C, although the Ministry of Health prohibits hospitals and clinics from performing the procedure. FGM/C is practiced by some tribal groups and is reportedly declining as a traditional custom, yet little information was available. Foreign residents from countries where FGM/C is prevalent undertook the practice.
Sexual Harassment: The government prosecutes harassment via the penal code. Conviction of “disgracing or dishonoring” a person in public is punishable by a minimum of one year and up to 15 years in prison if the victim is younger than age 14. Conviction for “infamous” acts against the rules of decency is punishable by a penalty of six months in prison, and “dishonoring a woman by word or deed on a public roadway” is also a punishable offense. The government generally enforced this law.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods.
Discrimination: Women in general faced legal and economic discrimination, with noncitizen women at a particular disadvantage.
The government’s interpretation of sharia applies in personal status cases and family law. Muslim women must have the consent of their guardians to marry. Local interpretation of sharia forbids Muslim women to marry non-Muslims.
Additionally, the law permits a man to have as many as four wives, women normally inherit less than men, and a son’s inheritance may be double that of a daughter.
For a woman to obtain a divorce with a financial settlement, she must prove her husband inflicted physical or moral harm upon her, abandoned her for at least three months, or had not provided for her or their children’s upkeep. Physical abuse claims require medical reports and two male witnesses. It is up to the judge’s discretion to consider women as full witnesses or half witnesses. Alternatively, women may divorce by paying compensation or surrendering their dowry to their husbands.
The strict interpretation of sharia does not apply to child custody cases, and courts have applied the “the best interests of the child” standard since 2010. According to sharia a divorced woman may lose custody of her children to their father once daughters reach 13 years of age and sons 11 years of age. Women are permitted to file for continued custody until a daughter is married or a son finishes his education. Under federal law fathers are permitted to seek custody of an under-11 year old son if they feel the child has become “too soft.”
The law provides for corporal punishment for sexual relations and pregnancy outside of marriage. In January the Dubai Court of Misdemeanors sentenced an unwed mother and father to a suspended one-month jail term and deportation for having sexual relations outside of marriage. The government may imprison and deport noncitizen women if they bear children out of wedlock.
Women who worked in the private sector, and especially nonnationals, regularly did not receive equal benefits and reportedly faced discrimination in promotions and pay (see section 7.d.). Labor law prohibits women from working in hazardous, strenuous, or physically or morally harmful jobs. In February Sharjah Civil Defense hired 15 female firefighters, joining the country’s first “Women’s Firefighting Unit.”
While foreign men working in the country and earning a salary above a certain level could obtain residency permits for their families for three years, a foreign woman could obtain a one-year, renewable permit for her family only if she was working in a job deemed rare or with a specialty such as health care, engineering, or teaching.
While education is equally accessible, federal law prohibits coeducation in public universities, except in the United Arab Emirates University’s Executive MBA program and in certain graduate programs at Zayed University. A large number of private schools, private universities, and institutions, however, were coeducational. According to officials local women represent more than 60 percent of national higher education students.
The government excluded women from certain social and economic benefits, including land grants for building houses because tribal family law often designates men as the heads of families.
The government has a Gender Balance Council to promote a greater role for female citizens, but not noncitizens, who were working outside the home.
Birth Registration: Children generally derive citizenship from their parents. As noted above the children of local mothers married to foreigners did not receive citizenship automatically. The government registered noncitizen births, including of Bidoon. The criminalization of sexual relations outside of marriage prevented the registration of children born out of wedlock and, as a result, access to travel documents.
Education: Education is compulsory through the ninth grade; however, the law was not enforced, and some children did not attend school, especially children of noncitizens. The government provided free primary education only to citizens. Noncitizen children could enroll in public schools only if they scored more than 90 percent on entrance examinations, which authorities administered only in Arabic. In September the Ministry of Education made all public schools coeducational from the first to fifth grades, starting with this year’s first grade class.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, and the government has taken steps to increase awareness of the issue, including the Child Safety Campaign, which reinforced the role of media in protecting the rights of children. The government provided shelter and help for child victims of abuse or sexual exploitation. In February the Community Development Authority began creation of a database of child abuse reports as part of its child protection system. In April Dubai Police inaugurated an interrogation center specifically designated for child abuse victims.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage for both men and women is 18, unless a judge gives approval for an earlier marriage. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women noted a reported persistence of unregistered child marriages.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes the sexual exploitation of children, with a minimum penalty for conviction of 10 years in prison. Consensual sex is illegal outside of marriage, carrying a minimum penalty of one year in prison. The penalty for conviction of sex with children younger than age 14 is life imprisonment. Distribution and consumption of child pornography is illegal.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
There is no indigenous Jewish community. There were no synagogues and no formal recognition of the very small foreign Jewish population (which constituted less than 1 percent of the population); the foreign Jewish community could conduct regular prayer services in rented space. In December Bloomberg published an article featuring Dubai’s Jewish community, entitled “As the Gulf Warms to Israel, a Synagogue Grows in Dubai.” Occasionally, social media contained anti-Semitic remarks and local Arabic print media featured anti-Semitic caricatures in political cartoons. There was anti-Semitic material available at some book fairs, including a few that operated with government oversight.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services.
Public and private facilities provided education, health services, sports, and vocational rehabilitation for persons with disabilities. Many of the facilities were reserved for citizens.
The Ministry of Community Development (formerly Social Affairs) is the central body responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and raising awareness at the federal and local level. In accordance with the law, most public buildings provided some form of access for persons with disabilities.
Government entities, including the Ministry of Community Development, the Services for Educational Development Foundation for Inclusion, and the Sports Organizations for Persons with Disabilities, sponsored conferences and workshops emphasizing the inclusion and integration of persons with disabilities into schools and workplaces. The government continued to raise public awareness of societal inclusivity through its National Strategy for Empowering People with Special Needs. The policy includes investment in research and development for health and rehabilitation, an integrative education system, vocational rehabilitation and employment, creation of unified criteria for building requirements, social protection, and societal integration through cultural, sports, and social activities. In December Dubai police launched a smart application to teach people how to communicate through Emirati sign language.
Various departments within the Ministries of Human Resources and Emiratization (formerly Labor), Education, and Community Development are responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and the government enforced these rights in employment, housing, and entitlement programs. While enforcement was effective for jobs in the public sector, the government did not sufficiently encourage hiring in the private sector. Some emirates and the federal government included statements in their human resources regulations emphasizing priority for hiring citizens with disabilities in the public sector and actively encouraged the hiring of persons with disabilities. Public sector employers provided reasonable accommodations, defined broadly, for employees with disabilities. The employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector remained a challenge due to a lack of training and opportunities, and societal discrimination. A survey of 75 human resources managers from the government and private sectors released in July showed that local employers do not hire persons with disabilities because they were perceived as “too expensive” and unable to perform well.
The government sponsored several initiatives to host international conferences for persons with disabilities emphasizing rights, opportunities, and the importance of social inclusion. The government also improved accessibility of public facilities. In March Abu Dhabi hosted the Special Olympics MENA Games and will host the Special Olympics World Games in 2019.
Approximately 90 percent of the country’s residents were noncitizens, more than half of whom originated from the Indian subcontinent. Societal discrimination against noncitizens was prevalent and occurred in most areas of daily life, including employment, education, housing, social interaction, and health care.
The law allows for criminalizing commercial disputes and bankruptcy, which led to discrimination against foreigners. Authorities enforced these laws selectively and allowed citizens to threaten noncitizen businesspersons and foreign workers with harsh prison sentences to assure a favorable outcome in commercial disputes.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Both civil law and sharia criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Under sharia individuals who engage in consensual same-sex sexual conduct could be subject to the death penalty. Dubai’s penal code allows for up to a 10-year prison sentence for conviction of such activity, while Abu Dhabi’s penal code allows for up to a 14-year prison sentence. There were no reports of arrests or prosecutions for consensual same-sex activity.
The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination.
By law wearing clothing deemed inappropriate for one’s sex is a punishable offense. The government deported foreign residents and referred the cases of individuals who wore clothing deemed inappropriate to the public prosecutor.
The law permits doctors to conduct sex reassignment surgery when there are “psychological” and “physiological” signs of gender and sex disparity. The penalty for performing an unwarranted “sex correction” surgery is three to 10 years in prison. The Abu Dhabi Federal Court of First Instance denied a January request for legal gender recognition by three local transgender persons who sought legally to change their names and update their gender on official documents. The Federal Appeals Court upheld the lower court’s ruling in March. The Abu Dhabi Court of Cassation rejected their final appeal on December 31.
Due to social conventions and potential repression, LGBTI organizations did not operate openly, nor were gay pride marches or gay rights advocacy events held.
There were reports of LGBTI persons being questioned in national airports on the basis of appearance.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Noncitizens and, to a lesser extent, citizens with HIV/AIDS and other diseases faced discrimination. Legal protections against employment and education discrimination for individuals with HIV/AIDS, as well as free access to HIV treatment and care programs, existed for citizens; however, noncitizens did not have these rights. The government does not grant residency or work visas to persons with certain communicable diseases including HIV/AIDS. Noncitizens who test positive for these diseases may be detained and deported. Doctors are required to inform authorities of HIV/AIDS cases, reportedly discouraging individuals from seeking testing or treatment.