Somaliland, a self-declared state regarded as an autonomous region of Somalia by the international community, has introduced its first-ever bill to criminalize gender-based violence.

The bill, which was passed on Saturday and is now on its way to the upper house of Parliament, criminalizes rape, sexual assault, trafficking, child marriage and other gender-based acts of violence. Individuals convicted of these crimes would serve time in prison.

Nafisa Yusuf, the executive director of the Nagaad Network, a women’s rights organization based in Hargeisa, capital of Somaliland, has since stated: “This is a great milestone achieved by Somaliland women.”

“We are encouraging them [upper house] to approve it as well,” he went on to say. “There is a very challenging and long way to go.”

The bill is particularly important given the rise in gender-based violence in Somaliland over the past couple of years. Due to the drought in Africa that has taken over several regions, especially Somaliland, thousands have been displaced, making women even more exposed to assault than before.

If the bill is accepted by the upper house, any person convicted of rape or other acts of gender-based violence would be sentenced to four to six years in prison, while those who infect their victims with HIV would face life sentences.

Previously, elders in Somaliland would mediate between the families involved, leading to injustices. In some cases, victims would be forced to marry their rapist due to pressure from elders and their families. This new bill would criminalize mediation and any other ways of solving rape cases outside courts.

The chairman of the human rights center has commented on this topic, stating: “We hope this will scare those who performed this outside the court who will now realize the government will jail them.”

Still, there are doubts and concerns regarding the new bill, particularly the training police officers would have to undergo in order to enforce it.

“There is of course the issue of appropriate training for police and the judiciary, this is a big ask in a cash strapped nation,” says Mark T. Jones, adviser on African affairs.

Others have voiced their concern about the way rape would be determined. Instead of lack of consent, women would have to prove “use of force, intimidation or threat,” said Guleid Ahmed Jama, chairperson of Human Rights Centre Somaliland.

The bill also does not specifically address domestic violence or female genital mutilation.

Somaliland is not the only state that allows rapists to walk free. In countries such as Nigeria, India and Singapore, husbands are legally allowed to rape their wives and in Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Romania, Serbia and Turkey rapists can also walk free if the victim forgives the perpetrator.

Photo: UNSOM / Flickr

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