Manama: In a landmark move, Saudi Arabia’s cabinet on Monday declared war on all forms of abuse and endorsed a new system that provides extended protection to all people.

The cabinet on Monday said that it approved the report submitted by the social affairs minister and supported by the Shura Council.

The system purports to guarantee protection from all forms of abuse and provides assistance, treatment, shelter and health, social and psychological care, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

Disciplinary and punitive action will be taken against those who cause the abuse.

Under the system, anyone who becomes aware of a case of abuse must report it without delay.

All employees, both civilians and those in the military, as well as those in the private sector who become aware of the abuse case – by virtue of their work - must report it to their employers who in turn must alert the social affairs ministry or the police, the official news agency said.

The identity of those who report cases of abuse must be protected and cannot be revealed without his or her approval, the cabinet said.

Ministry of Social Affairs employees and all those who have access to the details of the case of abuse by virtue of their work are required to protect the secret nature of the information. It added.

The decision is seen as a breakthrough in the fight against abuse, particularly as it empowers women, who are often helpless victims, to report cases.

Suhaila Zain Al Abideen Al Hammad, a social activist and member of the National Society for Human Rights, was quoted by Arab News as saying that she had reservations about the new law because it does not resolve the male guardianship issue. Many abusers are the guardians of the victims, she said.

“I wish this will change how the Ministry of Social Affairs treats women when it asks them to bring their male guardians when filing domestic abuse complaints,” Al Hammad said. “They also ask their male guardians to pick them up after the report is done and ask the abusers to sign pledges to never do it again.”

Mohammad Al Harbi, general manager of Social Protection at the Ministry of Social Affairs, told the paper that urgent domestic violence cases now can be handled quickly.

“Urgent investigations will be launched and action will be taken in the cases where the abusers are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and those who suffer from psychological conditions,” he said.

According to the paper, a 2009 study of women seeking services as primary health centers in Madinah had 25.7 per cent of the 689 women surveyed saying that they were victims of physical abuse. Only 36.7 per cent of the abused women in the study notified their doctors.