There is an outcry across Somalia as parliament are considering a new bill which means child marriage is allowed once a girl’s sexual organs mature.
The new Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes Bill would mean that forced marriage is allowed, as long as the family is willing to give consent.
A special representative on sexual violence in conflict for the United Nations has stated that this bill “would represent a major setback in the fight against sexual violence in Somalia and across the globe”.
In a statement which was released on Tuesday, Pramila Pratten said it should be withdrawn “immediately”, as it would weaken the protection for victims of sexual violence.
According to the U.N. analysis in 2014-15, it has been revealed that around 45 per cent of young women in Somalia are married or “in union” at the age of 18.
In 2013, Somalia made an agreement with the U.N. to improve its sexual violence laws. After five years of work, a sexual offences bill was approved by the Council of Ministers and was then sent to parliament.
However, a speaker of the House of the People then sent the bill back “in a process that may have deviated from established law”, which asked for “substantive amendments”, a U.N. special representative said.
This new bill “risks legitimising child marriage, among other alarming practices, and must be prevented from passing into law”, commented U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.
She then warned that its passage would “send a worrying signal to other states in the region”.
In Somalia, thousands of people are circulating a petition opposing the bill, including Ilwad Elman with the Mogadishu-based Elman Peace organisation.
On Wednesday, Somalia was preparing to mark the International Youth Day. Elman tweeted: “I don’t wanna see any Somali officials participating online to celebrate … when you’re trying to steal their childhood away from them RIGHT NOW with the intercourse bill legalizing child marriage.”
The U.N. has released a separate statement which says the new bill is “deeply flawed” and have urged the parliament to reintroduce the original one.
This new bill has come at a time when women’s rights groups are opening expressing their concern that the coronavirus pandemic and related travel restrictions in Somalia are worsening violence against women and female genital mutilation.
Many Somalian women and girls have been subjected to this practice.
In a report released last month by the UNFPA, it was revealed that 68 per cent of more than 300 services across the country have reported an increase in gender-based violence, including rape since the pandemic began.
In the report, a third of respondents said that they believed child marriages had increased further because of the economic pressures and disruption of schools.
In many cases, women have found that health facilities have been closed, which means there’s limited access to care.
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