The International Community in Somalia has roundly condemned attempts to legalize child marriages in the country after it emerged a section on MPs had sneaked in a new Bill different from the one tabled by the cabinet. Under the new ‘Sexual Intercourse’ bill, child marriage would be allowed once a girl’s sexual organs mature and would also permit forced marriage to a child as long as the family gives their consent.
ABC News (h/t Lisa) The bill is a dramatic reworking of years of efforts by civil society to bring forward a proposed law to give more protections to women and girls in one of the world’s most fundamentalist Muslim countries.
The new Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes Bill “would represent a major setback in the fight against sexual violence in Somalia and across the globe” and should be withdrawn immediately, the United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, said in a statement Tuesday.
The bill also weakens protections for victims of sexual violence, she said. Already more than 45% of young women in Somalia were married or “in union” well before age 18, according to a United Nations analysis in 2014-15.
Somalia in 2013 agreed with the U.N. to improve its sexual violence laws, and after five years of work a sexual offenses bill was approved by the Council of Ministers and sent to parliament. But last year the speaker of the House of the People sent the bill back “in a process that may have deviated from established law” asking for “substantive amendments,” the U.N. special representative said.
The new bill “risks legitimizing child marriage, among other alarming practices, and must be prevented from passing into law,” U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said this week, warning that its passage would “send a worrying signal to other states in the region.”
Thousands of people in Somalia are circulating a petition against the bill, including Ilwad Elman with the Mogadishu-based Elman Peace center.
As Somalia prepared to mark International Youth Day on Wednesday, Elman tweeted this week: “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.”
It was not clear when the bill would be put up for a vote. “We want to make sure it goes in line with Islamic law and traditions,” the deputy parliament speaker, Abdweli Mudey, said after the new bill emerged. (Well, then, it’s a done deal)
The contentious new bill comes as women’s rights groups openly worry that the coronavirus pandemic and related travel restrictions in Somalia have worsened violence against women and female genital mutilation. Nearly all Somali women and girls have been subjected to that practice.
Some 68% of more than 300 service providers across the country have reported an increase in gender-based violence, including rape, since the pandemic began, UNFPA said in a report last month.
Daily Mail Kirsty McNeill, Save the Children’s Director of Policy and Campaigns said: ‘In 2017, more than 12,000 girls a day will be forced into child marriage. That’s the capacity of Wembley Arena, every day, wed off before they’ve reached adulthood.
‘That’s one girl getting married every seven seconds when they’re still a child. By the time you’ve chewed a Brussel sprout, a child, just like your daughter, sister, cousin or niece, will be in wedlock. Often she’ll be married against her will to a stranger that’s 10 years older than her. ‘Instead of playing games and learning times tables, these unlucky girls lose their childhoods, their innocence, and sometimes their lives.
They are stripped of their opportunity to learn, thrive and to be healthy. This kind of discrimination against girls is not only unfair, it’s deadly. They are regularly subject to violence – both physical and sexual – and are neglected by their families and communities.’
She continued: ‘A child bride means a child mother. But their bodes aren’t developed enough to be ready for pregnancy. Childbirth is the second biggest cause of death for adolescent girls. Unbelievably, a girl in South Sudan is more likely to die in childbirth than to finish school.