Somalis’ and Forced Marriages- A Case Study

Somalis' and Forced Marriages- A Case Study
Rampant among Somalians forced & early marriages destroy lives of many girls

Somalilandsun: International law considers forced marriage to be a fundamental violation of human rights, impacting all aspects of an individual’s life. It contravenes Article 16 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which holds that a marriage can only be recognized if both parties are of sound mind and are consciously aware of the implications of entering into wedlock. Forced marriage is most prevalent in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

It disproportionately affects girls by curtailing their education, limiting their opportunities, increasing their risk of violence and abuse, and trapping them in extreme poverty. Human Rights Watch (2013) has shown that Somalia’s domestic laws have very limited metrics in place to protect women.

The 1975 Family Law sets the minimum age of marriage for both parties at 18 and 16 for girls with guardian’s consent. Somalia’s statutory justice system dissolved in 1991 with the onset of the civil war. Although it is gradually being rebuilt, it appears that this legislation is still not being effectively enforced.

Somalis mostly defer to the sharia and customary justice (xeer) in matters concerning the family, as was also the case before 1991. Under customary justice, both parties are ready to marry once they have reached puberty. Under sharia, and specifically in Shafi’i jurisprudence, which is also applied in civil matters at the formal court, the male guardian must provide consent for his daughter to marry. Somalia has yet to strengthen its criminal justice chain and its recognition of women’s rights, which received a setback (International Human Rights Commission, 2019) in order to implement its 1975 Family Law.

This per a case studies report by the Expanding Access to Justice – EAJ  Somalia, five-year program funded by USAID and implemented by Pact and the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) under the Human Rights Support Mechanism, a global program focused on the expansion and protection of human rights.

The study examines three sets of issues: a) the effectiveness of the justice system in addressing forced marriage in Somalia; and b) the extent to which forced marriage affects women’s lives; and c) the key drivers of forced marriage. It adopted purposive sampling methods to select 5 community elders and snowball sampling procedures to select 30 women in Mogadishu, who have been subjected to forced marriage. Interviews with these respondents explored three thematic concerns: the participant’s life history, their family dynamics, and their experience of forced marriage.

From the findings, interviewees reported that women are rarely given leadership roles under clan management, which compromises their societal status and accords men a high level of dominance that they use to restrict women’s rights through such practices as forced marriage. This scenario has been amplified in the literature. Studies claim that during and after the war, gender roles are often deeply contested as part of larger societal transformations and uncertainties (Horst, 2017; Skjelderup, Ainashe & Abdulle “Qare”, 2020). Respondents argued that Somalia’s current formal justice processes do not provide sufficient guarantees or structural mechanisms for forced marriage victims who seek to challenge marriage decisions in courts. According to Gonzalez (2017), victims of forced marriage rarely have access to the criminal system, and they are left in very vulnerable circumstances, especially when it is estimated that more than half of them are minors. Furthermore, regarding the impact of forced marriages on women, respondents pointed out that forced marriage causes girls’ educational goals and dreams to stagnate as they drop out. Women are allowed little or no choice regarding their education, and their husbands are empowered to decide whether they can proceed with it.

The study recommends a comprehensive structural approach to forced marriages in Somalia. The entire formal justice system in Somalia needs to be rejuvenated. The Judiciary needs to be empowered, and the police departments as well as correctional facilities strengthened. The federal government must also demonstrate full commitment to the principles and statutes it has adopted. There is a need to adopt a dual approach. While the justice chain needs to be improved at the top level, social norms change, and behavioral change need to be pushed at the local level. There is also a need for an integrative approach involving other sectors, such as education and security. There must be enhanced collaboration and partnership among various levels and across organizational sectors. The data gathered from in-depth interviews and secondary sources were recorded and analyzed. Interview notes were manually recorded in field notebooks and responses were captured in English. Each data set was analyzed by grouping together emerging themes and categorizing them into programmatic and legal options.

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