A top Saudi rights activist has called for the establishment of a higher council for family affairs to address concerns over the growing number of physical and sexual abuse cases and the lack of shared community spirit to protect children.
Maha Al-Muneef, director of the National Family Safety Program (NFSP), said: “The Ministry of Social Affairs alone can’t handle all aspects of abuse and domestic violence such as the medical or judicial concerns.”
She stressed the need for a higher body to assist with the different aspects of child abuse and domestic violence in the Kingdom.
Al-Muneef said that the NFSP registered about 250 cases of child abuse last year, while hundreds of cases went unreported.
The NFSP found that 20 percent children in the reported cases had suffered from sexual abuse and about 60 percent had suffered some form of physical abuse. Another 12 percent children died because of the severity of the injuries, said Al-Muneef, who is among the Saudi women honored by the US for bravery. In fact, President Barack Obama took the opportunity to hand her the accolade in person during his visit to Riyadh early this year.
Predicting a growth in the number of cases, she said that Saudi children continue to suffer violence in one form or another despite the efforts of government agencies, NGOs like NFSP and religious leaders.
The rate of defilement, child neglect and sexual abuse remains high across the country, she added, referring to the latest statistics currently being compiled by the NFSP.
Asked about the new safeguard measures to be taken by the NFSP to curb this social evil, Al-Muneef said: “The NFSP has already launched a toll-free helpline for children and their parents to report any case of abuse. “The toll-free number 116111 can be reached between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m. daily from any part of the Kingdom,” she noted.
Plans are under way to offer the helpline service on a 24-hour basis from September this year, she said. The line will stay open during weekends as well as holidays to ensure urgent help to the child or to parents in distress.
“Currently, we receive about 1,000 distress calls a month,” said Al-Muneef, stressing that parents observe their duty of providing protection to their children.
Asked about the involvement of Saudi academic institutions to curb domestic violence and child abuse, Al-Muneef pointed out that two major research chairs have been set up at the Jeddah-based King Abdulaziz University (KAU) and the Riyadh-based King Saud University (KSU) to study the causes of these social evils. “These chairs have been mandated to carry out research programs on violence, women’s health and child abuse,” she added.
However, she expressed concern over the ugly incidents of domestic violence and abuse that also indicate the involvement of relatives, neighbors and other close acquaintances.
She commended the efforts of Saudi government agencies in this regard. The Kingdom, she said, passed landmark legislation in late 2013 to ensure the protection of women, children and domestic workers against abuse.

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