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Has UAE become more liberal towards unmarried couples?

In the UAE, several changes to the country’s laws were announced this year. Be it the provision in marriage laws announced in November 2020 or the regulation in the consumption, distribution and purchase of Alcohol, the UAE has made several changes in its laws.

Adding to the list, in late 2021, the UAE announced its largest set of legislative reforms. The Federal Decree Law no 31, being one of them, aims to enhance the protection of women and domestic helpers while strengthening social cohesion and public safety.

The 2021 Federal Decree law is an amended version of the law of 1987. While the law is set to be into effect from 2 January 2022, it has decriminalized consensual relations out of wedlock, introduced provisions for unmarried parenting. The new amendment has provided with an expanded definition for rape crimes.

One peculiar change in the law concerns the 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. The law has clarified that consenting sex and pregnancy outside of marriage are no longer 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.

Another major highlight of the Penal Law is that it raised the legal age of puberty from 14 to 18 years old, implying that victims of rape, sexual molestation or consensual sex under 18 will be classified as minors under the new Penal Law.

Other key provisions which have been changed under the Penal Law are as follows.

  • The new law has stipulated for life imprisonment for raping a woman.

The penalty will increase to capital punishment under following conditions:

  • If the victim was under 18 years old.

  • If the victim was unconscious for any reason.

  • If the victim was disabled in a condition that hampers resistance.

  • If the offender is a family member or caretaker of the victim, or employer with authority over a woman or domestic helper.

  • 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.

  • The new law raises the juvenile age limit from 14 to 18 years old.

  • 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 decriminalized consensual relationships between unmarried couples. The latest Penal Law regulates extra marital relations by enabling the spouse or guardian to raise a lawsuit.

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.

  • If the consensual intercourse involves a victim less than 18 years of age, the offender will face sexual molestation charges, which is punishable by temporary prison, as per the previous law. 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 latest UAE Penal Law has also introduced a new provision for parenting children born out of wedlock. It states 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, in cases where the couple gets married, or jointly or separately admit parenthood of the child, they shall not face any criminal charge. However, in such cases, the parent shall be asked to 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.


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