Self-declared state Somaliland has recently introduced a bill that outlaws rape, the first time the country has brought in laws to address gender-based violence.
The bill along with other related legislations criminalises all forms of sexual offence, including rape, gang rape, sexual assault, trafficking and child marriage. It also sets down the penalty of life sentence for rapists who infect their victims with HIV .
Nafisa Yusuf, executive director of the Nagaad Network of 45 women’s organisations in Somaliland, welcomed the measure, saying it was “a great milestone achieved by Somaliland women.”
According to the network, the legislation is particularly of importance given the increase in gender-based violence in recent years.
The recent drought in the Horn of Africa led to displacement of thousands of people in Somaliland as well as the wider region, which has resulted in women and young mothers being vulnerable to assault.
Bill Fails To Consider Consent
The bill has cleared the country’s lower house of parliament, but is still awaiting approval from the upper house. It is likely that the bill will be signed by the president on 1 March.
Yusuf noted that the process is a “ very challenging” one and there is still a “long way to go.”
Guleid Ahmed Jama, chairperson of Human Rights Centre Somaliland, has however noted that the new law fails to specifically cover domestic violence or female genital mutilation.
He pointed out that the main “shortcoming” of the bill was that it fails to make the “lack of consent the key determinant of rape.” Under it, the victim needs to prove ‘use of force, intimidation or threat.’
According to Ayan Mahamoud, resident representative of Somaliland to the UK and the Commonwealth, more needed to be done to help survivors, in terms of medical needs, and offering protection. He noted that protection and support helps the victims gain “the confidence that they can rely on the system.”
There are also concerns being expressed regarding the country’s ability to implement the law. Mark T Jones, an adviser on African affairs, highlighted that requisite training for police and the judiciary, would be “a big ask in a cash strapped nation.”
Sexual Violence Laws Lax In Some Countries
The World Health Organization states that globally one in three women experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.
However some countries still allow perpetrators to escape justice.
Equality Now ‘s analysis of rape laws in 82 jurisdictions has found that in 10 countries – including India, Nigeria, Oman and Singapore – husbands are still legally allowed to rape their wives.
Among others, eight countries – Greece, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Russia, Serbia, Thailand and Tunisia – have put in place laws that exempt rapists from punishment provided they marry the survivor.
A dozen other states including Belgium and Croatia, allow exemptions if the perpetrator and victim reach a settlement.
Some countries such as the Philippines, Serbia, Thailand, Turkey, Romania and Singapore provide exemptions in case the survivor forgives the perpetrator.