By Rachael Wong
The Somalian parliament is considering a bill that would allow child marriage once a girl's sexual organs mature and her family gives consent.
There has been an outcry against the proposed new law, which, as reported by the Associated Press, “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 conservative 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“would represent a major setback in the fight against sexual violence in Somalia and across the globe” and should be withdrawn immediately, said the United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten. She said the bill also weakens protections for victims of sexual violence.
According to a UN analysis in 2014-15, more than 45 per cent of young women and girls in Somalia were married or "in union" before age 18.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said, "[the new bill] risks legitimising child marriage, among other alarming practices, and must be prevented from passing into law”. She warned that passing the bill would "send a worrying signal to other states in the region."
Thousands of people in Somalia have signed a petition against the bill, titled ‘"Stop the Intercourse Bill" and pass the "Sexual Offence Bill 2018"', which can be signed on change.org.
"The Federal Parliament of Somalia is set to vote on a heavily amended "Intercourse Bill" that will further violate the human rights, agency and bodily autonomy of children, women and girls in Somalia", begins the petition.
"We are deeply concerned with the amended Sexual Offences Bill as it sets a dangerous precedent in a country already marred by gender-based sexual violence."
“We, the citizens of this great nation cannot turn a blind eye to the rampant abuse, misogyny and violence faced by women, girls and children in Somalia. Child marriage and rape are severe violations against human rights.”
The controversial new bill comes as women's right groups raise concerns that the coronavirus pandemic and related travel restrictions in Somalia have led to an increase in violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation.
Rachael Wong is the CEO of Women’s Forum Australia