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How Somaliland Went About Criminalizing Rape

The self-declared republic of Somaliland, which seceded from Somalia in 1991, has just passed a law addressing an issue that even their parent nation Somalia has yet to acknowledge: a law that criminalizes rape and other forms of gender-based violence.

Until recently, Somaliland has approached instances of rape similarly to the ways it has been handled in neighboring Somalia: through arranged marriages between victims and attackers as a de-escalating tactic to save victims’ families from shame. But thanks to the work of various women’s rights organizations based in Somaliland such as Nagaad Network, which is based in Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa, a change in the republic’s response to rape is is quickly occuring.

A bill proposed to criminalize rape in Somaliland was developed by women’s rights group Nagaad in 2011. This bill went on to be passed with an approval rating of 46 to 51 within Somaliland’s parliament.

The executive director of Nagaad was pleasantly surprised by the positive response that the bill received by the general public of Somaliland as well as the republic’s parliament, as she stated in an interview with VOA news, “We have been working on this bill since 2011. It has gone through different processes, but we are very happy that it has been adopted … The people of Somaliland have welcomed it, we congratulate the parliament for discharging their duties.”

The newly appointed law states that instances of attempted rape will be punishable by a prison sentence of 4 to 7 years, statutory rape cases where victims are under 15 years old will be punishable by 20 to 25 years, gang rape holds a 20 to 25 year jail sentence per attacker, and cases where perpetrators inflict bodily harm or infect victims with HIV are sentenced to life in prison.

The law also criminalizes the popular act of mediation between victims and attackers by elders and other family members of the victim. In a VOA article on the recent development of this law states, “The new bill criminalizes mediation and other attempts to solve rape cases outside the courts,” failure to adhere to this law will result in jail time for those who try to mediate.

Somaliland’s efforts with this bill to protect its women and their rights is a huge step in the right direction. Somaliland has yet to be internationally recognized as its own republic since its secession from Somalia in 1991, but it continues to act as a positive example for its neighboring nations as it is making huge positive changes to benefit and advocate for gender equity.

Hopefully, Somaliland will act as a much-needed role model for its neighboring countries, and impact the way that rape is viewed and handled throughout the continent.


Featured Image by YoTuT on Flickr

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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