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3.13.3. Women and girls fearing forced recruitment by Al-Shabaab

Last update: August 2023

This sub-profile refers to women and girls fearing recruitment by Al-Shabaab against their will. This profile should be read in conjunction with 3.3. Persons fearing forced recruitment by Al-Shabaab.

COI summary

Women are commonly recruited by Al-Shabaab through marriage, including forced and child marriage. Women are often left without choice due to family and clan pressure. Al-Shabaab has abducted and forced girls aged 14 to 20 to marry fighters, while threatening their families with violence. Furthermore, wife inheritance remains common, and widows of Al-Shabaab husbands can be married off to any Al-Shabaab member [Targeting, 2.3., p. 37]. Especially in the case of Bantu/Jareer girls and women, marriage to Al-Shabaab fighters has been described as sexual and domestic slavery [AS Deserters, 2.3.2., p. 49; Targeting, 1.1., p. 22]. However, ‘some women members do express strong support for the movement and its goals and regard themselves as full-fledged members’. Additionally, some women who have grown up in environments beset with insecurity and gender-based violence may see marriage into Al-Shabaab, and the protection that comes with it, as a better alternative to being raped by a militiaman. [Targeting, 1.1., p. 26]

It has been reported that ‘women are generally relegated to support roles’ and serve ‘as zakat collectors, madrasa teachers and preachers, and security guards in prison’. Women associated with Al-Shabaab can be grouped either as ‘members’, meaning being ‘actively involved with the group’ or just ‘wives’ meaning linked to the group through marriage. The majority of women are ‘wives’, married to an Al-Shabaab member. Very few adult women reported having been active in the group while girls, on the other hand, state more often that they have been actively involved in the group’s activities. In contrast to men members of the group, women generally do not move away from their families and communities. [AS Deserters, 2.2.1., pp. 42‑43]

Most girls experienced forced marriage and/or sexual violence while with Al-Shabaab [AS Deserters, 2.3.3., P. 55]


Conclusions and guidance 

   Do the acts qualify as persecution under Article 9 QD?   

Forced and child marriage by Al-Shabaab amount to persecution. Furthermore, women and girls could be exposed to acts by Al-Shabaab which are of such severe nature that they would amount to persecution (e.g. killing, abduction, sexual violence, domestic slavery).

   What is the level of risk of persecution (well-founded fear)?   

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: age, area of origin and the control or influence of Al-Shabaab, clan affiliation, family/community perception, etc.

   Are the reasons for persecution falling within Article 10 QD (nexus)?   

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile may be for reasons of race (e.g. in the case of Bantu women) and/or religion (see also profile 3.8. Individuals (perceived as) contravening social or religious laws/tenets).