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Unmarried parents, sexual assault, and extramarital relationships are now all covered under a new UAE legislation

The revised UAE Penal Code decriminalized consensual relationships outside of marriage, added provisions for unmarried parenting, and broadened the scope of rape charges. The Federal Decree-Law No. 31 of 2021 concerning the UAE Penal Code, released last month as part of the UAE’s most significant set of legislative changes, intends to boost women’s and domestic workers’ protections while promoting social cohesion public safety.

One change is relating to the Cohabitation between unmarried couples. According to recent legislative revisions in the United Arab Emirates, Cohabitation between unmarried couples has been decriminalized and is no longer a crime. It clarifies that consenting sex and pregnancy outside of marriage are not illegal. It’s worth noting that, previous to these amendments, it was unlawful to have sexual contact with someone who wasn’t married to the individual in the issue.

You should read: New Law reform relating to Divorce in the UAE

Significant Amendments to New Penal Code

The Law, which takes effect on January 2, 2022, makes significant revisions to Federal Law No. 3 of 1987. One most crucial change is the increase of the legal age of puberty from 14 to 18 years, which implies that victims of rape, sexual molestation, or consensual sex under 18 years are classed as minors under the new Penal Code.

Three significant clauses have been amended in the new UAE Penal Law:

  1. Addition of more detailed definitions of rape

Raping a woman now carries a life sentence under the new Law. If one of the following four conditions is met, the penalty is increased to capital punishment: 

  1. If the victim was less than the age of eighteen (18),
  2. If, for whatever reason, the sufferer was unconscious
  3. If the victim was incapacitated or otherwise unable to resist,
  4. If the criminal is a member of the victim’s family or caretaker or an employer with power over a woman or domestic assistant.

The new Law raises the age limit for juveniles from 14 to 18 years old and expands the definition of rape crimes. While the previous Law only stipulated the death penalty for rape, the new Law separates the penalties for raping a woman into life in prison and the death penalty for the other four conditions.

Under the old provision of Law, those who raped minors under 14 faced the death penalty. It now covers those who rape minors under the age of eighteen. The new Law also specifies four conditions for using force that result in the death penalty for the offender. The previous Law did not include these provisions.

  1. Out-of-wedlock relationships are no longer criminalized

Unmarried couples over 18 years of age can only face up to six months in jail under the new Law if a complaint is filed by either party’s wife, husband, or custodian. However, if the spouse or guardian decides to withdraw the charges, the case will be postponed or dismissed.

Previously, under Federal Law No. 3 of 1987, living with an unmarried partner was punishable by a year in prison. Amendments to the Federal Decree-Law No. 15 of 2020 announced last year decriminalized consensual relationships between unmarried couples. The most recent Penal Code regulates extramarital relations by providing a mechanism for the spouse or guardian to file a lawsuit.

However, as per the old statute, if the consenting intercourse included a victim under 18 years of age, the criminal faces sexual molestation charges, which are penalized by temporary jail.

The only change is that the new rule lifts the age limit for child victims of consenting intercourse from 14 to 18. If the criminal is a caregiver or responsible for the female victim or domestic assistant, the sentence is increased to life in prison or temporary imprisonment. The old Law’s rules for having consensual intercourse with a child remain in effect, but only for victims under 18 years, not 14 years.

  1. Adopting out-of-wedlock children

The most recent UAE Penal Law includes a new provision regarding parenting children born outside of marriage. It states that anybody who engages in sexual intercourse with an 18-year-old woman that results in the birth of a child gets a minimum of two years in jail.

The couple, however, will not face criminal charges if they marry, admit parenthood of the child jointly or separately, and issue the baby’s official documents and passport following the laws of the country of which one of them is a national and with UAE law.

Under the new Law, failing to acknowledge a child born outside of marriage is criminal as of January 2, 2022. Parents who fail to document or acknowledge an out-of-wedlock child will be charged with a crime. The old Law, which criminalized consensual relationships outside of marriage, made no provision for unmarried parents to parent their children.

You may want to know: Abu Dhabi drafted a new legislation for non-Muslims regarding Marriage, Divorce, Custody, and Inheritance

Don’t hesitate to contact HHS Lawyers today to know more about the New and updated UAE Penal Law. 


Hazim Darwish

Hazim Darwish, is a Senior Partner of HHS Lawyers in UAE. Practicing law for almost a decade, he has in-depth knowledge on UAE legislation with particular expertise on legal drafting, contract drafting, labor disputes, family law, and regulatory compliance for business organizations. Hazim Darwish also provides counsel on legal rights and obligations in the UAE to clients, including individuals and businesses subject to investigation or prosecution under Criminal Law by major regulators.