An outcry is rising in Somalia as parliament considers a bill that would allow child marriage once a girl’s sexual organs mature and would allow forced marriage as long as the family gives their consent. Somalia in 2013 agreed with the UN 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, reports the AP. 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 United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, said in a statement Tuesday.
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"would represent a major setback in the fight against sexual violence in Somalia and across the globe" and should be withdrawn immediately, Patten said. Already more than 45% of young women in Somalia were married or "in union" before age 18, according to a United Nations analysis in 2014-15. Somalia's presidency and health ministry had no immediate comment Wednesday. It was not clear when the bill would be put up for a vote. The contentious new bill comes as 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. Nearly a third of respondents said they believed child marriages had increased in part because of economic pressures and in part because schools have been disrupted.
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