Somali bill expands children, forced marriages spark outcry

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Somalia’s parliament faces criticism on Wednesday as it is weighing a controversial bill that would allow child marriage once a girl’s sexual organs are ripe, and forced marriage as long as the family gives consent.

The measures are being put forward because more than 45% of young women in Somalia were married or “in union” before the age of 18, according to a United Nations analysis in 2014-15.

« [It] would represent a major setback in the fight against sexual violence in Somalia and around the world ”and should be withdrawn immediately, said on Tuesday Pramila Patten, the UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict.

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The capital of Somalia, Mogadishu. (Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)
(Getty)

The Somali presidency and the health ministry made no comment on Wednesday. It was not clear when the bill would be voted on.

“We want to make sure that it is in line with the law and Islamic traditions,” Deputy Speaker of Parliament Abdweli Mudey said after the new bill was released.

Activists have spent years trying to give more protection to women in Somalia, which the Associated Press says is one of the most conservative countries in the world.

The contentious new bill also comes as women’s rights groups openly fear that the coronavirus pandemic and associated travel restrictions in Somalia have exacerbated violence against women and female genital mutilation. Almost all Somali women and girls have been subjected to the practice, according to the Associated Press.

Some 68% of the more than 300 service providers across the country have reported an increase in gender-based violence, including rape, since the start of the pandemic, the United Nations Population Fund said in a report in the month latest.

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In 2013, Somalia had agreed with the UN to improve its laws on sexual violence, and after five years of work, a bill on sexual offenses was approved by the Council of Ministers and referred to parliament.

But last year, the Speaker of the House of the People sent back the bill “in a process that could have deviated from the established law,” asking for “substantive amendments,” Patten said.

Now the new bill “risks legitimizing child marriage, among other alarming practices, and must be prevented from becoming law,” UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said this week. , warning that its adoption “would send a disturbing signal to other States in the Region.” ”

Meanwhile, thousands of people in Somalia are circulating a petition against the bill, including Ilwad Elman with the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center, based in Mogadishu.

As Somalia prepared to mark International Youth Day on Wednesday, Elman tweeted this week: “I don’t want to see any Somali officials participate online to celebrate… when you try to steal their childhood NOW with project sex. of law legalizing child marriage. ”

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The UN mission in Somalia, in a separate statement, called the new bill “deeply flawed” and urged parliament to reintroduce the original bill. This original bill “will be vital in preventing and criminalizing all sexual offenses,” said Somalia’s representative for the United Nations Population Fund, Anders Thomsen.

“Great time for [members of parliament] to decide on Somalia’s future values, ”tweeted British Ambassador to Somalia Ben Fender.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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