Somalia: Failure to Pass of Sexual Offences Bill Complicit in Continued Sexual Violence Against Young Girls

The Federation of Somali Trade Unions (FESTU) condemns the rape of three young girls in Afgoye, South-West State, and Balanballe, Galmudug. These tragic events remain one of the most heinous human rights violations and leave a deep-rooted stain on victims' families and communities.

For too long, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) has been a deep scourge in Somali society, contributing to its unrelenting levels of gender inequality. SGBV keeps women subordinate - specially working women who are breadwinners of their families - stifles their voices and agency, and impacts their levels of productivity, thereby keeping them poor and economically disempowered. Sexual violence against children significantly interrupts their emotional, social and educational development; its ripple effects are felt far into their future and it has the potential to derail the normal trajectory of their lives.

However, the failure to enact the Sexual Offences Bill (SOB) has not occurred within a vacuum but was deliberately undermined and sabotaged by the Federal Parliament. Earlier in this year, the Speaker of the Lower House of the Federal Parliament, Mohamed Mursal, made a unilateral and incantational decision to send the SOB back to the Executive in a poorly conceived scheme to frustrate the deliberation and passage of this Bill.

At the time, FESTU publicly condemned this action, noting that under Articles 80, 81, 82 and 83 of the Provisional Constitution, the procedure for processing Bills before the Federal Parliament is expressly outlined. The Speaker does not have the powers to send a draft legislation initiated by the Council of Ministers back to the Executive. Somali trade unions highlighted that the Speaker's decision was an attempt to stall the advancement of gender equality and protection of human rights of the weak and vulnerable in Somali society. This unfortunately has rung true and deep in the light of recent cases of sexual abuse against young girls.

Therefore, the Lower House of the Federal Parliament is complicit in this crime. FESTU strongly argues that apart from not having a piece of legislation that responds effectively to sexual offences, the unconstitutional decision to return the SOB to the Executive contributed to a notion that sexual offences are not taken seriously by the parliament.

"The fact that the criminalisation of sexual offences could be used as a political football between branches of Parliament sends a strong message that there is little urgency in finalising the legislation which is an important instrument that would ensure perpetrators are held liable and survivors of sexual violence receive social justice" said Omar Faruk Osman, General Secretary of FESTU.

"It is time for the various arms of the Federal Government, particularly the Executive and the legislative, to speak with one voice on the issue of sexual violence. It defeats the overall objective of achieving gender equality and justice in Somalia if on one hand, ministries condemn the high rate of sexual offences while lacking the legislative might to implement measures that will give substantive and concrete protection to women and girls" added Osman.

"We demand that once the Federal Parliament returns from its recess that SOB be placed high on the agenda for discussion and subsequent finalization. We should not have to witness further acts of sexual violence against women and children to be convinced that it is a societal ill that must be addressed comprehensively and urgently. The passing of the SOB is a key aspect of making this happen" declared FESTU General Secretary.

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