Just over a week ago, it came to SIHA’s attention through one of its members that particularly heinous acts of sexual violence against a woman and two girl children. On 30th March 2020, the two young girls, both below the age of 5, were abducted and gang-raped by unknown men in the Afgoie lower Shabelle region – a region which has seen a pattern of increasing instances of sexual and gender-based violence. The parents reported that the two young girls had been playing outside of their house when the abduction took place. The girls were found the morning of 31st of March in a farm in serious need of medical attention. As of 6th April, the girls were still being hospitalized.

The family has since received some financial support to pay for the surgery which both girls require, as their injuries are extensive. It has been reported that both girls are experiencing high degrees of pain as well as incontinence due to internal damage sustained during the rapes. They are in such a heightened state of trauma that they immediately begin shouting and crying whenever a man approaches them. So far, 18 suspects have been detained and are under investigation, however the perpetrators are yet to be identified. Just two days after the two young girls were found, the body of an elderly woman who had been raped and murdered was found in the same farm.

These heinous acts of violence against women and girls point to the pervasive nature of sexual violence in Somalia. They remind us of the importance of taking a stance, not only against violence against women and girls, but also taking a stance against all ideas, beliefs, practices, traditions and laws which contribute to the notion that the health, safety, happiness, and freedom of women and girls is secondary or subordinate to the desires, needs, or interests of men. For years on end, sexual violence has been linked to power, with no redress sought on many cases. The fragility and plural nature of the justice system coupled with a culture of impunity and the volatility of state security structures are other contributory factors to the increased vulnerability of women and girls.

Although Somalia’s Provisional Constitution of 2012 commits the country to end all forms of discrimination including those pertaining to gender, the passage of the Sexual Offences Bill as the most progressive legislation of its kind, has stalled. At the time of its passage in 2018, it had already gone through different consultative stages with civil society, line ministries and other stakeholders. Therefore, with numerous cases similar to these two most recent aggravating ones of the two young survivors and the victim, the bill must be picked up again contrary to views of Islamic scholars that contributed to the initial stalling.
Still, the Somali government continues to turn a blind eye to violence against women and girls and is yet to put in place special and consistent measures to address perpetrator impunity. The silence of the government is an encouragement for perpetrators to commit more crimes. The government as well as international actors should stop ignoring the high prevalence of crimes against women and girls in Somalia, and should address these issues with major policy and security sector reform.

SIHA therefore recommends the following:

–    The enactment of the Sexual Offences bill must be prioritized and fast-tracked. Once successfully passed, enacted and implemented, the bill will strengthen the legal framework by criminalizing a wide range of sexual offences and assaults, providing crucial support to survivors and setting clear steps and parameters for the prosecution of sexual violence.

–    Somalia must sign and ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW as an international human rights instrument provides a strong basis and foundation for protection of the rights of all women and girls. Once this important recommendation is adhered to, Somalia as a signatory to this instrument will be obliged to take all appropriate measures to end discrimination against women and girls.

–    A strong grassroots and civil society campaign must be run including grassroots awareness-raising activities in addition to strengthening and harmonizing service provision for survivors of sexual violence. First response networks must be created in order to respond and provide services not limited to medical, legal and psychosocial.