The new UAE Penal Law decriminalised consensual relations out of wedlock, introduced provisions for unmarried parenting, and expanded the definition of rape crimes.

The Federal Decree Law no. 31 of 2021 concerning the UAE Penal Code, announced as part of the UAE's largest set of legislative reforms last month, aims to enhance the protection of women and domestic helpers while strengthening social cohesion and public safety.

To be effective from January 2, 2022, the law, brings major amendments to the Federal Law no. 3 of 1987.

One major highlight is raising the legal age of puberty from 14 to 18 years old, which means victims of rape, sexual molestation or consensual sex under 18 are classified as minors under the new Penal Law.

Here are three key provisions that changed under the new UAE Penal Law: New elaborate definitions on rape

The new law stipulates life imprisonment for raping a woman. The penalty increases to capital punishment under four conditions:

The new law raises the juvenile age limit from 14 to 18 years old and introduces more definitions of rape crimes. While the previous law only stipulated death penalty for rape, the new law separates penalties to life in prison for raping a woman, and death penalty for the four other conditions.

Dr Hasan Elhais, Legal Consultant at Al Rowaad Advocates, explained, “Previously, the death penalty applied to those who raped minors under 14. Now it applies to those who rape minors under the age of 18.”

He added, “The new law also details four conditions of the use of force that earn the offender the death penalty. These provisions did not exist under the previous law.”

Decriminalizing out-of-wedlock relations

Under the new law, unmarried couples over the age of 18 can face six months in jail only if a complaint is raised by the wife, husband or custodian of either of both parties.

However, the case will be suspended or dismissed if the spouse or guardian chooses to drop the charges.

Previously, living with an unmarried partner was punishable by one year in prison under the Federal Law no. 3 of 1987. The amendments announced last year in the Federal Decree Law no. 15 of 2020 decriminalised consensual relationships between unmarried couples. The latest Penal Law regulates extra marital relations by enabling the spouse or guardian to raise a lawsuit. “The new law regulates cases of adultery and consensual sex for couples over 18 years old by enabling only three people to file charges: the husband, wife or guardian of any of the parties. Dr. Hassan Elhais – Legal Consultant of Al Rowaad Advocates”

However, if the consensual intercourse involved a victim less than 18 years of age, the offender faces sexual molestation charges, which is punishable by temporary prison, as per the previous law.

The only difference, Elhais noted, is that the new law raises the age limit of juvenile victims of consensual sex to 18, as opposed to 14. The penalty increases to life or temporary imprisonment if the offender is a caretaker or in a position of authority over the female victim or domestic helper. “The previous law's provisions on having consensual sex with a minor will still apply, but for victims under the age of 18, not 14,” stated Elhais. Parenting children born out of wedlock

The latest UAE Penal Law introduces a new provision for parenting children born out of wedlock. It provides that anyone who has sexual intercourse with a woman who has completed 18 years of age, resulting in the birth of a child, shall be subject to a minimum of two years in jail.

However, the couple shall not face criminal charges if they get married, or jointly or separately admit parenthood of the child, and issue the baby’s official documents and passport in accordance with the laws of the country of which either is a national and are in line with UAE’s laws.

Elhais stated that unacknowledging a child born out of wedlock is considered a punishable crime under the new law.

He added, “As of January 2, 2022, parents would be committing a crime if they fail to document or acknowledge their child born out of wedlock.” The previous law, which criminalized consensual relationships out of wedlock, did not set any provisions on parenting children of unmarried parents.