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A Deep Dive into Somalia’s Approved Constitutional Amendments

A Deep Dive into Somalia's Approved Constitutional Amendments www.whoownsafrica.com A Deep Dive into Somalia's Approved Constitutional Amendments www.whoownsafrica.com
A Deep Dive into Somalia's Approved Constitutional Amendments www.whoownsafrica.com

In a move that has sparked concern among human rights activists, Somalia’s parliament approved a set of constitutional amendments that have the potential to erode the protections afforded to children, especially girls, in the country.

The amendments, which were approved anonymously by parliament, include provisions that would reduce the age of majority and potentially permit certain forms of female genital mutilation.

Human Rights Watch had urged Somalia’s parliament to reject these amendments, citing the potential risks they pose to the well-being and rights of children.

One of the key concerns highlighted by Human Rights Watch was the proposed reduction in the age of majority. Currently, under Somalia’s provisional constitution, a child is defined as a person under the age of 18.

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A Deep Dive into Somalia's Approved Constitutional Amendments www.whoownsafrica.com
A Deep Dive into Somalia’s Approved Constitutional Amendments www.whoownsafrica.com

However, the approved amendments seek to redefine a child as a person under the age of 15. This change in definition could have significant implications, as it would increase the risk of child marriage and lower the standards of juvenile justice in the country.

By lowering the age of majority, Somalia would be in direct violation of its international human rights commitments, as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This convention defines a child as anyone under the age of 18, and Somalia has previously committed to upholding these standards.

In addition to the approved change in the age of majority, the amendments also bring into question the criminalization of female genital mutilation (FGM). Somalia has made significant progress in recent years in combatting this harmful practice, which has severe physical and psychological consequences for girls and women.
However, the approved amendments could potentially permit certain forms of FGM, undermining the progress made in protecting the rights and well-being of girls in the country.

The approved amendment to set the age of “maturity” at 15 is concerning as it puts girls, in particular, at a greater risk of child marriage. Child marriage not only affects their health, especially their reproductive health, but also hinders their access to education and exposes them to other forms of abuse. According to Girls Not Brides, an international group working to prevent child marriage, 17 percent of girls in Somalia were already married before the age of 15, and 36 percent by the age of 18.

Furthermore, the approved amendments also include physical development as a determining factor in a person’s majority. This contradicts international standards that call for determinations of adult competence to be based on emotional, mental, and intellectual maturity rather than physical maturity.

Although the amendments distinguish the age of maturity at 15 from the age of responsibility at 18, implying that anyone under 18 would still be protected by juvenile justice standards, there are concerns about the practical implementation. This new age of majority risks reinforcing existing ambiguities in Somali law regarding the age of majority, which could further endanger children. Human Rights Watch warns that children in Somalia have long been treated as adults, leading to their arrest, detention, and even custodial sentences, including in capital cases.

During President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s first term in office, Human Rights Watch discovered that authorities throughout Somalia had treated boys suspected of affiliating with the armed Islamist group Al-Shabab as adults, in violation of international law. Intelligence agencies had resorted to threatening, beating, and even torturing boys in custody. Additionally, military courts had also tried children as adults.

A Deep Dive into Somalia's Approved Constitutional Amendments www.whoownsafrica.com
A Deep Dive into Somalia’s Approved Constitutional Amendments www.whoownsafrica.com

The approved constitutional amendments, while addressing concerns such as female genital mutilation (FGM), still raise some uncertainties in its language. While it acknowledges that female circumcision is a cruel and degrading practice, tantamount to torture, it does not provide a clear definition of what constitutes female circumcision. This lack of clarity leaves room for interpretation and may not explicitly prohibit all forms of FGM.

Human Rights Watch argues that in order to effectively address this issue, the constitutional review should ensure a complete ban on all forms of FGM. By including such a ban in the constitution, the government would have a solid foundation to develop legislative and policy measures aimed at eradicating all forms of FGM.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are four types of FGM, all of which are considered acts of violence and discrimination against women and girls. These practices involve the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia or causing injury to the female genital organs without any medical reason.

Human Rights Watch’s extensive research revealed the harrowing experiences of women and girls in various countries who have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). Prior to the procedure, they often live in fear, knowing the painful and detrimental consequences that await them.

The physical toll is severe, with reported cases of excessive bleeding, shock, infection, complications in childbirth and menstruation, reduced sexual pleasure, infertility, and long-term gynecological issues.

The psychological impact is equally distressing, as many survivors suffer from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and psychosexual problems. Recognizing the urgency to end this brutal practice, UN human rights treaty bodies have repeatedly urged Somalia to pass legislation criminalizing all forms of FGM.

In a positive development, the Somali government pledged in 2021 to eradicate traditional harmful practices during its review by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

However, there are concerns that proposed amendments to the country’s constitution may inadvertently perpetuate these harmful practices, leaving future generations of children at risk.

Human rights advocate Bader expresses the need for constitutional reform that prioritizes the protection of children’s rights rather than subjecting them to further harm.

The approval of these amendments comes at a time when Somalia’s provisional constitution has been under review for nearly a decade. Efforts to finalize the review have intensified since late 2023, with the Independent Constitutional Review and Implementation Commission submitting suggested amendments to the first four chapters of the constitution.


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