Last updated: June 2022
In Somali society, one’s date of birth is not viewed as a decisive criterion for when a person is considered an adult, with puberty being the marker of adulthood. The newly initiated 2020 ‘Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes Bill’ would allow parents to marry off their children once they reach puberty, which could be as young as 10 years old.
Due to deeply rooted gender-inequality, child marriage rates are higher for girls compared to boys. The practice of early marriage continues to be pervasive in Somalia, with nomadic and rural girls being particularly affected. Girls are usually married at early age because of the need for families to ensure social and economic security and in order to avoid giving birth to children out of wedlock. Early marriage is perceived to be both a cultural and a religious requirement, while women are traditionally valued according to their ability to procreate. According to a 2020 survey, 16% of Somali girls are married by the age of 15 and 34% percent are married by the age of 18, while another source indicated that 8.4% of girls married before the age of 15 and 45.3% of girls married before the age of 18. During the Covid-19 pandemic cases of child marriage increased in Somalia.
The distinction between forced and arranged marriage can be subtle. Brides may also be exchanged between neighbouring clans to build alliances, seal peace agreements and gain access to grazing zones. Xeer practices of dumal (forced marriage of a widow to a male relative of her deceased husband), higsian (the forced marriage of the sister of a deceased wife to the widower), and godob reeb (the forced marriage of a girl into an aggrieved clan as part of a diya payment) have been reported [Actors, 2.3.2]. Moreover, victims of rape were forced to marry their perpetrators as part of the remedial practices of the traditional justice system. Forced marriage is also prevalent among persons with disabilities.
If a woman refuses the marriage, she may face consequences such as being banished from the nomadic community or being denied child custody or property. Girls and women who have been forcefully married rarely come forward to get help due to fear of social stigma and punishment.
Forced and child marriage amount to persecution. When the acts in question are (solely) of discriminatory nature (e.g. social stigma, ostracism, denial of child custody or property), the individual assessment of whether this could amount to persecution should take into account the severity and/or repetitiveness of the acts or whether they occur as an accumulation of various measures.
Not all women and girls would face the level of risk required to establish well-founded fear of persecution in relation to forced marriage or child marriage. The individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: prevalence of the practice in the area of origin, age, socio-economic status of the family, clan and family traditions, etc.
Nexus to a reason for persecution
Available information indicates that persecution of this profile may be for reasons of religion and/or membership of a particular social group. For example, refusal to enter into a marriage may result in persecution for reasons of membership of a particular social group in relation to a common background which cannot be changed (refusal to marry) and/or a characteristic or belief that is so fundamental to identity or conscience that a person should not be forced to renounce it (the right to choose whom to marry) and their distinct identity in Somalia (e.g. stigmatisation, ostracism).