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. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children managed a shelter in Dubai for domestic abuse victims and was active in increasing awareness of domestic violence problems and avenues available for victims to seek help. For the first half of the year the organization reported 196 cases of domestic violence.
In general the government did not enforce domestic abuse laws effectively, and domestic abuse against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem. 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 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.
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. Women, however, often were reluctant to file formal charges of abuse for social, cultural, and economic reasons. 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 and radio programming and advertising, by hosting workshops, and by sponsoring a hotline. The organization also offered services to all those residing in or transiting the country, including legal services and rehabilitation programs.
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. The practice was rare and confined to foreign residents.
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 under 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.
Reproductive Rights: Married couples have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; have the information and means to do so; and have the right to attain the highest standard of reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Authorities typically deported unmarried noncitizen workers who become pregnant. Hospitals do not issue birth certificates to children born to unmarried parents, making it difficult for a child to remain in the country or to obtain the necessary documents, such as a passport, to depart. Abortion is generally illegal; however, it is allowed if the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother. The government provides free healthcare to citizens, including access to contraception, obstetric and gynecologic services, prenatal care, and delivery care to married female citizens. Despite this, only 39 percent of women aged 15-49 used a modern method of contraceptives, and 20 percent of women had an unmet need for planning, according to UN Population Fund 2015 estimates. The government did not provide free antenatal care for noncitizen pregnant women.
Discrimination: Women in general faced legal and economic discrimination, with noncitizen women at particular disadvantage. The treatment of Emirati women showed some signs of improvement.
The government’s interpretation of sharia applies in personal status cases and family law. As noted above, the law forbids Muslim women to marry non-Muslims.
In addition, the law permits a man to have as many as four wives; women normally inherit less than men; and a son may inheritance may be double what a daughter’s.
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 her or their children’s upkeep. Alternatively, women may divorce by paying compensation or surrendering their dowry to their husbands. Strict interpretation of sharia does not apply to child custody cases, as courts have applied the “the best interests of the child” standard since 2010.
The law provides for corporal punishment for sexual relations and pregnancy outside of marriage. The government may imprison and deport noncitizen women if they bear children out of wedlock. In previous years, authorities arrested some victims of sexual assault for sexual relations outside of marriage.
Women who worked in the private sector regularly did not receive equal benefits and reportedly faced discrimination in promotions and pay (see section 7.d.).
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 schools and 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. Women hold two-thirds of public sector posts, including 30 percent of senior and decision-making positions, according to government estimates.
The government excluded women from certain social 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. Its activities primarily focused on speaking and awareness raising activities including seminars, workshops, and conferences aimed at educating and empowering women. The government requires female participation on the boards of government agencies and companies.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship generally from their parents. As noted, the children of Emirati mothers married to foreigners did not receive citizenship automatically. The government registered noncitizen births, including of bidoon.
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. Noncitizen children could enroll in public schools only if they scored more than 90 percent on entrance examinations, which authorities administered only in Arabic. The government provided free primary education only to citizens. Public schools are not coeducational after kindergarten. Islamic studies are mandatory in all public schools and in private schools serving Muslim students.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and the government has taken steps to increase awareness of the issue. The government provided shelter and help for child victims of abuse or sexual exploitation. Newspapers frequently advertised the Ministry of Interior’s child abuse reporting hotline and carried stories of prosecutions of child abuse cases. In June the government enacted a new Child Rights Law that included increased reporting requirements for suspected cases of child abuse, tightened definitions of abuse, and increased legal punishments.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage for both men and women is 18.
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 under 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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
There is no indigenous Jewish community. There were no synagogues and no formal recognition for 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. Occasionally social media contained anti-Semitic remarks, and 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 www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons who have physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services; however, some discrimination occurred.
Public and private facilities provided education, health services, sports, and vocational rehabilitation for persons with disabilities; however, capacity was insufficient. Many of the facilities were reserved for citizens. There were reports that in some cases authorities detained individuals for behavior linked to a mental disability, rather than send them to a medical facility. These individuals were later acquitted because of their disabilities.
The Ministry of Social Affairs is the central body dealing with 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 Social Affairs, 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 Ministry of Social Affairs, which ran a number of rehabilitation centers, stated that the increased emphasis in recent years on integrating children with disabilities into regular schools opened up space in their rehabilitation centers to better accommodate persons with more significant disabilities.
Various departments within the Ministries of Labor, Education, and Social Affairs 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. The emirate of Abu Dhabi reserved 2 percent of government jobs for citizens with disabilities, and other emirates and the federal government included statements in their human resources regulations emphasizing priority for hiring citizens with disabilities in the public sector. 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.
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 worked to improve the accessibility of public facilities. For example in June, Dubai launched a $2.7 million study to identify specific targets and methodologies to improve accessibility for schools, hospitals, parks, and transportation facilities.
The General Authority of Sports and Youth Welfare and the Disabled Sports Federation provided programs to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in sporting activities.
Approximately 89 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. Under the penal code, those who issue checks with an insufficient account balance are punishable by detention or fine (see also section 2.d., Foreign Travel). By presidential decree citizens have immunity from prosecution for bounced checks.
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. There were no reports of arrests or prosecutions for consensual same-sex activity. In September authorities passed Federal Decree No. 4, which permits doctors to conduct sexual reassignment surgery so long as there are “psychological” and “physiological” signs of gender and sex disparity.
There were reports of LGBTI persons being questioned in Dubai airport. For example, in August media reported that authorities detained a Canadian model, allegedly on account of discrepancies between her female physical appearance and her insistence she was female, and the information contained in her passport, which authorities said contained a picture that appeared male and listed her sex as male. Due to social conventions and potential repression, LGBTI organizations did not operate openly, nor were gay pride marches or gay rights advocacy events held. Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 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. For example, in February authorities arrested, fined, and deported a male foreign national for wearing makeup and women’s clothing in a Dubai mall.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Noncitizens and, to a lesser extent, citizens, with HIV/AIDS and other diseases faced discrimination. Legal protections regarding employment and education discrimination against 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, tuberculosis, or leprosy. Noncitizens that 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. A study released in February and conducted across eight universities indicated that 85 percent of citizen students expressed negative attitudes towards those with HIV/AIDS.