A bill introduced in Somali parliament by a presidential ally caused a storm of criticism from other lawmakers when they realised it wants to legalise marriage at puberty – as early as 10 for some girls.
According to reports by Reuters, Deputy speaker Abdiweli Mudeey, who presented the bill, did not return various calls seeking comments but told fellow lawmakers that his proposal had been reviewed by clerics and “this bill … is the correct one based on Islam.” There is no law yet mandating a minimum age for marriage in Somalia
Data from a government survey this year shows that nearly a third of girls are married before their 18th birthday – just under half of those before the age of 15.
“Many families marry off their daughters to reduce their economic burden or earn income. Others may do so because they believe it will secure their daughters’ futures or protect them,” Dheepa Pandian, a spokeswoman from UNICEF, the United Nations’ Children’s Fund to Reuters.
A popular case in the country was that of Hafsa, who 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 begged the man to divorce her. “The man just slept with me, beating me always,” she said, sitting by her mother, who clutches her daughter tightly. “I regretted I was born.”
Many lawmakers, like legislator and human rights activist Sahra Omar Malin, have rejected the bill that want wants to legalize child marriage in Somalia. “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.
Nadifa Hussein, who runs three camps in the 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,” Hussein said. “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 said sadly.