Forced Marriage Overseas: Somalia
Individuals from the United States would face substantial barriers if trying to avoid/escape a marriage in Somalia. Continuing turmoil in the country, related to the ongoing civil war, places women and girls at constant risk of violence, despite new protections enacted under the recently passed provisional constitution.1 The militant Islamic terrorist organization, Al-Shabaab, controls much of southern Somalia, where it has imposed a harsh interpretation of Shari’ah law. Both Al-Shabaab and government forces fighting against it have committed human rights abuses, including recruitment of child soldiers; and the kidnapping, forced marriage and rape of young girls.2 Al-Shabaab’s control and influence has increased the prevalence of forced marriage, child abuse, rape and other forms of violence throughout much of Somalia.3
For further information and guidance for individuals from the U.S. that are facing or fleeing a forced marriage in Somalia, please contact the Forced Marriage Initiative.
Marriage in Somalia
Women and girls in Somalia have severely limited rights when entering into or attempting to dissolve a marriage. Local custom and Shari’ah law govern marriage and divorce in Somalia.4 Individuals in Somalia can marry once they have reached the “age of maturity,5 but there is no specific definition of this term and no explicit laws against child marriage.6 UNICEF estimates that 45.3% of girls in Somalia are married before turning 18 years old.7 Divorce, while available to both men and women, is much harder for a woman to obtain, and must be done through the Shari’ah court system.8 A woman pursuing a divorce may have to give up custody of her children, property, and financial settlements from the marriage, among other hardships.9
Under Somali customs, parents are able to choose their daughter’s husband and to decide if their daughter will to undergo female genital mutilation, which is highly prevalent in Somalia.10 Forced marriages are not uncommon, and young girls are often given away as brides without their consent. Women and girls may also be exchanged for marriage between warring tribes as part of a peace negotiations, or subjected to “inherited” marriage, including practices where a man is entitled to “inherit” the widow of his deceased brother or close relative, and to marry the sister of his deceased wife.11
Women and girls who have been raped are often forced to marry their rapists to uphold family honor, and rapists can avoid punishment if they marry their victim. A woman who refuses such a marriage may face severe consequences from her own family and clan. Women in nomadic communities who resist forced marriages may be outcast from the community,12 and women who refuse inherited marriages may also be denied certain other rights, including child custody and the management of the deceased husband’s property.13
Potential Risks and Protections in Country
It may be very difficult for individuals facing or fleeing forced marriages to access protection in Somalia. Violence against women and girls continues to be widespread, and the ongoing conflict in country hampers efforts by the government to address the problem. Women and girls are often targeted for rape, particularly in displaced persons camps.14 Perpetrators of violence may include government security forces, law enforcement and peacekeepers. Perpetrators of violence against women are rarely punished, and law enforcement is widely considered to be unreliable at best, or at worst, hostile towards women.15 While there is an NGO presence in country, it can be difficult to access services.
Special Challenges in Returning to the United States
Individuals from the United States that are fleeing forced marriage situations would face significant challenges in leaving the country, primarily due to the continued political instability, lack of governmental services, and ongoing conflict.16 Women and girls may be unable to travel easily, particularly in portions of the country under Al-Shabaab control. Please check the entry and exit requirements for Somalia for the most up to date information.
- The Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative
We are available to help individuals from the United States who are facing or fleeing forced marriage in Somalia, including providing phone, text, and email support, connecting with the U.S. government and local resources, and coordinating shelter and services back in the United States.
- The U.S. State Department
The State Department does not have a consular presence in Somalia, and the closest U.S. Embassy is in Kenya. The State Department recommends that travelers advise the embassy in Kenya of any planned travel to Somalia. For updated information and travel alerts, please visit the department’s webpage on international travel in Somalia.
- U.S. Embassy Nairobi, Kenya
Contact the embassy in the case of an emergency.
Tel: (254) (20) 363-6000
1 Human Rights Watch, Somalia: Big Promises, Scant Change (January 21, 2014), available at http://www.refworld.org/docid/52e24853a.html (last accessed February 7, 2014).
2 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2014 – Somalia (January 21, 2014), available at http://www.refworld.org/docid/52dfddb414.html (last accessed February 7, 2014).
3 UNICEF, Northeast Zone, Somalia, available at http://www.unicef.org/somalia/SOM_resources_nezmics4sum.pdf, (last accessed January 22, 2014); Human Rights Watch, Somalia: Women Shouldn’t Live in Fear of Rape (Feb. 13, 2014), available at http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/02/13/somalia-women-shouldn-t-live-fear-rape.
4 Somali Provisional Constitution, Art. IV, § 1.
5 Somali Provisional Constitution, Art. XXVIII, § 5.
6 Nicola Gladitz, Somalia: A Tradition of Law, at 10, available at http://smartsheep.org/somalia-a-tradition-of-law-a-research-paper-by-nicola-gladitz.
7 Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Somalia: Prevalence of forced or arranged marriages in Somalia; consequences for a young woman who refuses to participate in a forced or arranged marriage (September 20, 2007), available at http://www.refworld.org/docid/47ce6d7a2b.html; UNICEF, Somalia: Statistics, available at http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/somalia_statistics.html.
8 Dahir Jibril, Somalis Recall Forced Marriages with al-Shabaab Fighters (June 21, 2013), available at http://sabahionline.com/en_GB/articles/hoa/articles/features/2013/06/21/feature-01 (last accessed March 27, 2014).
9 Emory Law, Somalia, available at http://www.law.emory.edu/ifl/legal/Somalia.htm (last visited February 4, 2014).
10 World Health Organization, Female Genital Mutilation and Other Harmful Practices, available at http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/prevalence/en/ (last accessed March 24, 2014).
11 Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Somalia: Prevalence of forced or arranged marriages in Somalia; consequences for a young woman who refuses to participate in a forced or arranged marriage (September 20, 2007), available at http://www.refworld.org/docid/47ce6d7a2b.html (accessed February 7, 2014).
12 Eastern African Sub-Regional Support Initiative For The Advancement Of Women, Somalia, available at http://www.eassi.org/somalia (last visited March 27, 2014).
13 Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Somalia: Prevalence of forced or arranged marriages in Somalia; consequences for a young woman who refuses to participate in a forced or arranged marriage (September 20, 2007), available at http://www.refworld.org/docid/47ce6d7a2b.html (accessed February 7, 2014).
14 United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Somalia (2013), available at http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2013/521 (accessed February 4, 2014).
15 Amnesty International, Somalia: Rape and sexual violence a constant threat for displaced women (August 30, 2013), available at http://www.refworld.org/docid/522596a84.html (accessed February 7, 2014).
16 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2014 – Somalia (January 21, 2014), available at http://www.refworld.org/docid/52dfddb414.html (last accessed February 7, 2014).