United Nations has come down strongly on the Somalian members of parliament for undoing years of work in the region with the new bill.
Trigger warning: Child abuse, sexual violence
Somalia parliament is considering passing a bill that would permit child marriage and the decision has drawn shock and outrage all over the world. The new bill states that girls will be permitted to marry once their sexual organs mature. The “first menstruation cycle” will be taken as a sign that girls are ready for marriage, according to the new bill. The horror doesn't end there either. The bill states that a girl or woman can be married against her consent if her family approves. The bill undoes years of efforts to offer more protection to women in what's considered one of the world's most conservative countries. United Nations come out lashing at the potential bill, reported Time. UN's special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, said the new Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes Bill “would represent a major setback in the fight against sexual violence in Somalia and across the globe.”
.@UN and other partners in #Somalia have expressed concern to Parliament Speaker Mursal about attempts to table a deeply-flawed new bill that allows #child marriage and contravenes relevant intl. conventions. @UN urges Cabinet to re-introduce the original Sexual Offences Bill. pic.twitter.com/CSwZptYxhI— UNSOM (@UNSomalia) August 8, 2020
The United Nations called on Somalia to withdraw the bill with Pramila Patten making it clear that it's designed to weaken protections for victims of sexual violence. The U.N. mission to Somalia called the bill “deeply flawed” and called on parliament to re-introduce the original one. Anders Thomsen, the Somalia representative for the U.N. Population Fund, said the original bill “will be vital in preventing and criminalizing all sexual offenses.”
According to a United Nations analysis in 2014-15, more than 45% of young women in Somalia were married or “in union” before age 18. After much pressure from the UN in 2013, UN had agreed to amend its conservative sexual violence laws. It took more than 5 years of work to finalize the sexual offenses bill. The bill was approved by the Council of Ministers and sent to parliament. The bill hit a roadblock as the speaker of the House of the People sent the bill back, claiming it "may have deviated from established law.” The speaker asked for substantive amendments,” the U.N. special representative said.
Very concerning news in Somalia for early marriage and women & girls' rights. Proposed new bill would allow child marriage and violate Somalia's int'l commitments. Original Sexual Offenses Bill #sob approved by Cabinet 2 years ago should be given a first hearing. @MwomenHRD— Lisa Stadelbauer (@LisaStadelbauer) August 10, 2020
The new bill has come in for criticism from other quarters within the UN as well. The United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the new bill “risks legitimizing child marriage, among other alarming practices, and must be prevented from passing into law.” Bachelet said it could set a precedent and send a "worrying signal to other states in the region.” A lot fo Somalian people are against the bill and are trying to bring attention to the problem via a petition that's circulating online.
With Somalia lining up to celebrate International Youth Day on Wednesday, Ilwad Elman with the Mogadishu-based Elman Peace organization warned politicians of who tried to score pointless brownie points on social media without taking concrete action to help the youth. “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,” tweeted Elman. Ben Fender, the British ambassador to Somalia, said it was a moment of reckoning for the MPs of Somalia and the country itself in terms of its future.
"Penetration is a sexual act between two people, and it can be forced or voluntary. Under this law, forced and voluntary sexual acts are not permitted in accordance with Islamic law and the moral values of society."— Rashid Abdi (@RAbdiCG) August 9, 2020
The Coronavirus outbreak hasn't helped the situation in Somalia with a sharp spike in violence against women and female genital mutilation. People have been forced to stay inside on account of the Coronavirus outbreak and the travel restrictions put in place. According to a UNFPA report released last month, 68% of the 300 service providers have reported an increase in gender-based violence, including rape, since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak. Among those surveyed, a third said they believed child marriages had increased because of the poor state of the economy. The report found that the closure of schools because of the virus has also caused a rise in child marriages. The closure of health facilities has also limited access to care and help.
It was only 5 years ago that Somalia ratified the Convention on the rights of the Child. Passing this bill will undo all the great work that has been done in Somalia on women and children’s rights.— Yasmin Ahmed (@_Yasmin_Ahmed) August 8, 2020