Somali Parliament warned against passing deeply-flawed new bill that allows child marriage
MOGADISHU, Somalia - A bill that was crafted by Somalia's cabinet that defines sexual offenses and probable punishment for offenders has caused divisions in parliament, with reports emerging that the Lower House may have changed it and embraced child marriage among other unconstitutional articles.
The Sexual Offence Bill was approved in 2018 by the cabinet under the regime of former Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire and gas been pending in parliament for the last two years. The Lower House, however, is said to have generated a "new" bill, further raising a sharp debate in parliament.
Reports indicate that a section of MPs crafted a rival bill dubbed "The Intercourse Bill" which permits child and forced marriages, which contradicts Somalia's constitution, international conventions, and the culture, leading to uproar from the international community.
The new bill, critics say, undermines Somalia's culture and could pave way for immorality besides shielding offenders from getting harsh parliament. Somalia records high cases of rape, defilement, forced marriage among other vices that affect the girl child.
Abdirizak Mohamed, a federal MP, condemned the changes in the bill, adding that it sharply contravenes serious international conventions in which Somalia is a signatory. He accused the parliamentary human rights committee of pushing for the enactment of the new bill.
"The human rights oversight committee of the parliament has initiated a sexual offense bill to be debated tomorrow while shelving the SOB ratified by the cabinet. Articles in the bill support child marriage, others contradict with international conventions that Somalia is a signatory," he said.
The MP accused female legislators, who sit in the committee, of pushing for the bill without considering the effects it may have on children. He challenged female MPs to push for proper legislations which would help the country to properly handle sexual offenders.
"It is despicable that the only parliamentary committee chaired by a woman and more than 2/3 of the committee members comprised of women to advocate for child marriage. This proposed bill contradicts many statutes, international conventions, and the provisional constitution," he added.
The international partners dismissed the new bill as "deeply flawed", adding that they had written to Lower House Speaker Mohamed Mursal Abdirahman over the bill changes in the bill. The UN asked the caretaker cabinet to reintroduce the original bill that was approved about two years ago.
"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," read a tweet from the UNSOM.
It is not clear whether or not the MPs will back down but previously, they have succumbed to pressure from the international community over controversial issues. The United Nations has been pushing for enactment of sexual offenses bill to help curb surging cases of rape and defilement.
The absence of legislation, officials argue, has made it difficult for the cases to be prosecuted in court. Since 1991, Somalia has been operating without a properly constituted government and the civil war has made it difficult for women and children who are victims of sexual violence.