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The parliament of Somalia is mulling over bringing in a contentious new bill that would legitimise child marriages once sexual organs of girls mature and the family of the girl gives their consent for the marriage. The Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes Bill will pave the way for forced marriages of girls if their parents give their consent.
The controversial new bill is in stark contrast to the years of efforts of the civil groups, fighting for securing protection for women in one of the world’s most traditionalist countries.
The United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, raised alarm over the development in Somalia, saying the bill ‘would represent a major setback in the fight against sexual violence in Somalia and across the globe’. The bill also undermines the protection for victims of sexual violence, she said.
United Nations Human Rights chief warns the new bill might set a precedent for other states to follow
The passage of the Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes Bill could prove disastrous for the young Somalian women as about 45 per cent of them were married or ‘in union’ before age 18, according to a United Nations analysis in 2014-15.
Somalia in 2013 agreed with the United Nations to improve its sexual violence laws, and after five years of efforts, a sexual offenses bill was passed by the Council of the Ministers and sent to parliament. However, the bill was sent back by the speaker of the House last year reasoning that the process may have been deviated from established law and asked “substantive amendments” in the law.
The United Nations Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet cautioned that the new bill floated by the Somalia risked legitimising child marriage, among other alarming practices and asked for stopping it from being passed into law. She also warned that the passage of the bill might send worrying signals to other states in the region.
Outrage against the contentious new bill in Somalia
Outrage has swept across Somalia against the proposed bill and thousands of people in the country have signed a petition against it, including Ilwad Elman with the Mogadishu-based Elman Peace organisation.
Furthermore, the UN mission in Somalia issued a separate statement, calling the new bill “deeply flawed” and urged parliament to re-introduce the original one. “The new bill be crucial in preventing and criminalising all sexual offences,” the Somalia representative for the U.N. Population Fund, Anders Thomsen, said.
The women’s rights group have also expressed their anxiety over the contentious new bill, adding that the coronavirus pandemic and the travel related restrictions have exacerbated violence against women and female genital mutilation. Almost all Somali women and girls have been subjected to that practice.