Islamic Law and Human Trafficking in Saudi Arabia

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Over recent years, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been confronted with a great challenge: becoming a modernized country without rejecting its long-held culture and heritage. In many ways, the state has been a success story, having developed a profitable oil-based economy and considerable world influence. Less than one hundred years ago, Saudi Arabia had not yet been unified; today, it is a state with complex financial, legal, and political systems, with a culture marked by deep history and faith. Since the September 11, 2011 terrorist attacks, Saudi Arabia has continued to work on a reform agenda to promote greater participation by Saudi citizens, a vibrant economy, and a civil society. However, many issues still plague the state. The blight of human trafficking, in forms of labor, sex, and other forms of trafficking, is of particular concern in Saudi Arabia. Some Western critics attribute this to the country’s legal system.

Saudi Arabia is ruled under a system of Sharia, a body of Islamic law and a legal framework within which the public and some private aspects of life are regulated for those living in a legal system based on Islam. This legal system has attracted strong criticism from human rights groups over criminal law punishments, the societal position of women, and the prevalence of both labor and sex trafficking within the nation. The Saudi government response’s to human trafficking has been historically limited, mainly due to cultural, social, and political obstacles that have fostered an attitude of indifference toward the issue. Many human rights groups criticize the government’s lack of compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Nonetheless, while...

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