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Abu Dhabi: The UAE has adopted a tough regime of penalties for sexual harassment as the President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan amended the Penal Code to the address the offence.

“Whoever commits the offense of sexual harassment shall be punished by a jail term of at least one year, a fine of not less than Dh10,000 or both,” according to article 359 repeated of the Penal Code.

The new article says sexual harassment is all about harassment of others by repeating acts, sayings or signals that would prejudice their modesty in order to get them to respond to the offender’s sexual desires or those of others.

“The penalty shall be imprisonment for a period of not less than two years and a fine of not less than fifty thousand dirhams or one of these penalties if the perpetrators are multiple or the perpetrator carries a weapon or the perpetrator has a functional, family or study authority over the victim,” the article said.

The decree authorises the Cabinet to set a date for enforcement of the new rule.

Sheikh Khalifa’s decree also changed article 359 of the Penal Code, which now reads: “Any person who obstructs a female in such a manner as to violate her prudence by wordو deed or by using information technology or any other means shall be punished by a jail term not exceeding one year and a fine not exceeding Dh10,000.

“The penalty is applicable in cases where a male disguised in female attire enters a place reserved for women or where entry is forbidden at the time. If the man commits a crime in this case, this is considered an aggravating circumstance.”

If a criminal judgement is rendered against a foreigner, it would include a jail term followed by deportation.

Under article 120 of the UAE Labour Law, an employer may terminate the service of an employee who is penalised by a criminal judgement.

The new rule is timely as the UAE Penal Code lacked addressing sexual harassment , which is not uncommon in the UAE, but it is rarely reported, according to legal experts.

Fayza Mousa, head of Al Faiza Advocates and Legal Consultants, welcomed the broad definition the new law gives of sexual harassment and its strategy to maintain a society that is free of sexual harassment.

She said sexual harassment is a gender-neutral offense: Men can sexually harass women, and women can sexually harass men. However, she noted, statistics show that the overwhelming majority of sexual harassment claims and charges are brought by women claiming that they were sexually harassed by men.

Same sex harassment

“People of the same sex can also sexually harass each other, as long as the harassment is based on sex rather than sexual orientation,” said Fayza Mousa, head of Al Faiza Advocates and Legal Consultants,

She said the new law will fight common forms of harassment against women including inappropriate staring, touching, passing comments about appearance or body, sending obscene text messages that include pictures, videos or pornographic material and soliciting sexual favours.

The lawyer said very few victims of sexual harassment at workplace lodge a complaint with the HR, let alone the police, and fewer still take it to the courts.

She argued this could be because of the victims’ ignorance about their rights on how to deal with sexual harassment. Victims also fear retaliation by the offender, loss of job, humiliation by colleagues and repercussions on the home front. “But the new law will encourage victims of sexual harassment to come forward,” Mousa said.