Somali lawmaker presents bill to legalise child marriage

A bill to legalise child marriage has been presented to the Somali parliament.

At present there is no law mandating a minimum age for marriage in Somalia.

Deputy speaker Abdiweli Mudeey’s bill provoked criticism from other lawmakers when they realised it would legalise marriage at puberty.

For some girls, this would be when they were as young as 10 years old.

Government survey data this year shows child marriage is common in Somalia. Nearly a third of Somali girls are married before their 18th birthday. Just under half are married before the age of 15.

“Some families marry off their daughters to reduce their economic burden or to earn income. Others may do so because they believe it will secure their daughters’ futures or protect them,” says Dheepa Pandian, who is a spokeswoman from the United Nations’ Children’s Fund, UNICEF.

At this stage it is not clear when parliament might vote on the bill.

At present there is political turmoil in Somalia – the prime minister was sacked last month and elections due this year will likely be delayed. The nation is also battling an Islamist insurgency.

Many lawmakers, like legislator and human rights activist Sahra Omar Malin, reject the bill.

“Our constitution is based on Islam. It says the age of maturity is 18, this is the right age for voting or for a girl to marry,” she said.

Mudeey told lawmakers his bill has been reviewed by clerics and “this bill … is the correct one based on Islam.”

A woman who runs three camps in the Somali capital for families fleeing violence, shelters many abused and abandoned child brides.

“Most women here were married at 13 and are divorced by the time they are 20,” she says. “They have no one to feed them.”

Among them is Sirad, a shy 16-year-old with two children. Her husband has left, but if he comes back she must welcome him, she says.

“Who else wants me? If you are thrown into a well and can’t come out, the only option is to try to swim.”

Another girl was married off at 13 by her father to a man who paid $100. She and her mother say she was beaten and raped for two years before they convinced him to divorce her.

“The man just slept with me, beating me always,” she says. “I regretted I was born.”


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