Somaliland’s drought threatens progress in protecting females from sexual violence
The devastating drought in the Horn of Africa is threatening progress made towards stamping out some of the worst forms of abuse against women and girls, Save the Children is warning.
After an unprecedented four consecutive failed rains in Somaliland, and despite a global decline in child marriage, the aid organisation is deeply concerned by encountering repeated cases of forced child marriage as a result of the drought.
New research by Save the Children found that 51 teenage girls (out of 1,104 households) had been married off because of the way in which the drought was impacting their families. Moderate to severe hunger was also evident in most of the eleven districts included in the assessment, while 10% of families interviewed reported that one of their girls has been sexually assaulted.
This comes as Somaliland’s first ever so-called ‘Anti-Rape’ law was given a further seal of approval in the parliament’s Upper House, which voted for the bill with a majority on Saturday (7 April 2018). Save the Children and partners such as the Women’s Rights network, NAGAAD have campaigned to bring the Sexual Offences Bill to parliament, where it received an initial endorsement in December 2017.
Timothy Bishop, Save the Children’s Somaliland / Somalia Country Director, said: “A third of women globally experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. As if that wasn’t shocking enough, many of these crimes are being perpetrated against girls that should be in primary school - yet are married off to men old enough to be their fathers or even grandfathers.
“Save the Children fully supports the Sexual Offences Bill and the progress being made by the Ministry of Employment, Family and Social Affairs of Somaliland to protect women and girls from all forms of sexual violence, whether perpetrated by a stranger or a relative. The more funding made available for medical and psychological support for survivors, the more likely they will be to report crimes and seek justice.
“With the worst drought in living memory and the ongoing conflict driving cracks through the economy and the fabric of society, never has this legislation been more important.”
Save the Children calls on all decision-makers to urgently prioritise the protection of women and girls from rape and other sexual offences, not just in Somaliland but also in southern regions of Somalia. Drought has displaced one million people in the whole of Somalia in 2017 alone, leaving women and young mothers especially vulnerable to assault.
This includes girls like, Caaisho*, 15, who was married off to an older man in the midst of the devastating drought. She said: “I was 14 years old when I got married. My father wanted it. I could not say no to him. He had nothing, his livestock died. My husband then came up to my father and said I want your daughter.
Although the prevalence of child marriage is decreasing globally, by 15% over the last decade, the rates of decline are lower in Africa than elsewhere in the world. The total number of girls married before they turn 18 is estimated to be 12 million a year.
Save the Children is campaigning for the governments of Somaliland and Somalia to set the minimum age of marriage at 18 years.
Somaliland’s Sexual Offences Bill is the first piece of legislation to address gender-based violence. Under the draft bill, all forms of sexual offence would be criminalised, including rape, gang rape, sexual assault, trafficking and forced early marriage. The bill has now been agreed in the lower and upper house of parliament, but still needs approval from the President.
A major player in this campaign for the Sexual Offences Bill is Nafisa Yusuf, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights network, NAGAAD, in Somaliland. She said:“I believe the President wishes to send a clear message that rape, or any form of sexual abuse, will not be tolerated in Somaliland, either morally, culturally, nor legally. By signing off this new law, that message will be loud and clear.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about this Anti-Rape law is that it opposed religious teachings, which is simply not true. The root cause of sexual violence against women is unequal power relations between men and women. Conflict, displacement, and the cultural changes that follow, are factors which exacerbate these unequal power relations. In short, the problems faced by women and girls in Somaliland are not due to religion, but culture, which changes when societies are precarious following seismic changes.”
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Notes to Editors:
* (name changed)
About Save the Children’s Multi-Sectoral Needs Assessment Report February 2018
This needs assessment was carried out between January 25th and 6th of February 2018 in eleven districts, seven from South and Central Somalia and four from Somaliland. 1104 households across 41 communities were covered in the assessment. Somaliland zone contributed 36% of the households. According to the office of UNOCHA, some 5.4 Million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Somalia and some 1.2 million people could be malnourished this year.
About Child marriage rates in Somaliland / Somalia
Somaliland and Somalia are among the highest gender unequal countries in the world but have the highest data gaps to reflect recent changes. The ongoing humanitarian crisis has exacerbated poverty, insecurity, and lack of access to education, factors which drive child marriage. Recent figures however show decline in prevalence of child marriage in the country from 24.6% in 2006 to around 10% in 2016.
Save the Children research from 2017 found child marriage is more prevalent in south and central parts of the Somalia. These parts of the country have consistently witnessed prolonged humanitarian crisis compared to other parts of the country thus increasing vulnerability to early marriage.
Save the Children’s campaigning on the Sexual Offences Bill
Save the Children has supported the Sexual Offences Bill in Somaliland, with financial and technical support to bring the draft bill to the attention of decision makers.
Save the Children as part of the INGO consortium in Somalia is also supporting the efforts of the Federal Government of Somalia to adopt the draft Sexual Offences Bill. Once enacted, it will be the first piece of legislation to comprehensively address gender-based violence in southern Somalia.
The current draft Sexual Offences Bill is the result of two years of consultation with a wide variety of stakeholders, including elders and religious experts, as well as civil society, women’s groups, lawyers and various government agencies.
It is crucial that the Bill is passed in its present form to ensure that all sexual offences are comprehensively criminalized, that all people who have experienced or are at risk of sexual violence in Somalia are afforded adequate protection and access to justice, and that the duties of justice actors to investigate and prosecute such crimes are clearly defined and enforceable.
 Save the Children ‘Multi-sectorial Needs Assessment Somalia / Somaliland February 2018’. For more information see Notes to Editors
 Save the Children Somalia Humanitarian Response Plan 2018
 Save the Children Somalia Fact Sheet 7 Sept 2017
 Save the Children Somalia Fact Sheet 7 Sept 2017: The survey covered 2581 respondents: 430 community leaders, 1118 female and 1033 male adults sampled from 55 communities in 11 districts of Somalia.
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