Violence against children is on the rise in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The local media has given prominent coverage to a spate of such incidents following the death of the Taif boy Ahmad last week. The four-year-old boy was allegedly murdered by his stepmother.
The story of Ahmad is the latest in a series of similar tragic incidents of child abuse that has rocked Saudi society over the past few years. In most of these cases, parents or stepparents were involved.
The first such incident was reported by the local media in 2008. A number of schoolteachers found evidence of physical abuse on the face of a six-year-old girl student called Rahaf. There were also burn marks on her body.
One day, the girl collapsed in the classroom from fatigue. She told her teachers that she had been physically and mentally tortured at the hands of her stepmother, who served as a school director.
The stepmother used to beat her and lock her up in a room, she said. The woman prevented the housemaid from serving the girl any food and that caused her to collapse.
2009 witnessed the shocking death of 10-year-old Ghasoun, who was tortured by her father and stepmother. She succumbed to her injuries following sustained physical and mental abuse that lasted for several months. This was the first case in Saudi society of a father being convicted of murdering his daughter.
The same year another girl, Areej, was also abused to death by her father and stepmother.
The girl had been subjected to physical abuse after being locked up in a dark room. In a cruel twist of fate, the girl had been living with her mother before her father won her custody. According to witnesses, the girl was continuously tortured by her father and stepmother and that eventually resulted in her death.
Another victim, Sharaa, used to be assaulted by her father and stepmother in front of her younger brother, often as punishment for her poor performance in school.
Sharaa's teachers complained to the stepmother about her performance in school. Afterward, her father and stepmother started beating and punishing her. One day, they tied her to the window of her room and then went out for a picnic. On their return, they found the girl dead.
The most horrific of such incidents in 2009 happened in Taif, when a father brutally knifed his two daughters and son to death. He then turned himself in at a police station. The man had taken revenge on his wife after she left him, taking their children.
The same year also witnessed the death of Bayan, who was killed by her father after she consistently refused to obey him. The girl was living with her father at a house away from her estranged mother.
In 2010, 12-year-old Sara succumbed to her injuries and serious burns after being continuously tortured by her stepmother.
Mofleh Al-Qahtani, president of the Saudi National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), warned against the rising tide of domestic violence in the Kingdom. "There are several children who are victims of physical and mental abuse and they are being denied their rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Rights for Children. The rights of children should be protected at any cost," he said.
Hussein Al-Sharif, NSHR president in the Makkah region, said the graph of violence against children is upward and this has prompted authorities to carry out extensive studies about each case of abuse. Jawhara Al-Anqari, head of the family committee at NSHR, recently stressed the need to take all the measures possible to ensure children are protected from abuse.
A recent study showed that about a fifth of Saudi children are subjected to perpetual abuse. According to the study, prepared by the Center for Combating Crimes at the Ministry of Interior, over a third of cases come in the category of mental abuse, while physical abuse accounts for a quarter.