Somalia: Enforcing the Sexual Offences Law in Puntland
“I had never felt as scared as I did when this man waylaid and raped me that afternoon. He threatened to kill me if I reported to anyone about the terrible things he had done to me,” Fareeda, (not her real name), weeps as she narrates the ordeal she went through early this year.
Fareeda is 14 years old and lives with her grandfather. She attends secondary school in Garowe. On the fateful day, she was collecting charcoal from a house nearby to cook for her grandfather. “There was no one else at the house but the man. The 35-year-old man pinned me down and raped me,” Fareeda narrates as tears continue to stream down her face.
She never shared the story with anyone until two months later, when she started feeling unwell. “I decided to tell my grandfather about what had happened. He shared the story with several people in the community, and I was taken to Maato-kaal Centre on 29 February 2020,” said Fareeda.
The Maato-kaal Centre is based in the premises of Garowe General Hospital, adjacent to the Maternal Health Unit offering a comprehensive set of services to Gender-Based Violence (GBV) survivors including clinical management, psychosocial support, legal advice and referrals. UNFPA Somalia provides technical and financial support to the centre.
The caseworkers at Maato-kaal sought consent from Fareeda to provide her support and immediately sent her for HIV and pregnancy tests. “The girl was found to be two-months pregnant, but she was HIV negative. The centre provided her with antenatal care as well as psychosocial and counselling service,” said Mr. Kamal Abdukadir, UNFPA Somalia Programme Specialist for Gender, Youth and HIV/AIDS in Garowe.
Meanwhile, caseworkers at the Maato-kaal Centre continuously monitor Fareeda. They made sure that she continued attending school despite being pregnant. “On 8 August 2020, the girl was admitted to Garowe General Hospital as a result of pregnancy complication. Fareeda suffered eclampsia, a rare but serious condition where high blood pressure results in seizures during pregnancy,” said Mr. Abdikadir, adding: “this presents a significant risk of morbidity to both mother and baby. She was taken in for a cesarean section and delivered a baby girl.”
The Maato-kaal also provided legal services for Fareeda and facilitated a DNA test. The centre works in close collaboration with the Bureau of Forensic Science in Garowe to carry out advanced DNA testing, which helps to provide critical scientific evidence to the police and officials investigating and prosecuting sexual offences.
“The perpetrator was immediately arrested, and he was later convicted to two years imprisonment only,” said Mr. Abdikadir.
National authorities in the Puntland, led by the Ministry of Justice and Religious Affairs (MoJRAR), on November 29, 2016, launched the first-ever Sexual Offences Law criminalizing all sexual offences in the region. The law criminalizes various sexual crimes including gang rape, sexual exploitation and abuse, sexual harassment, sexual offences involving the Internet and indecent exposure of genital organs in public places.
However, the results of many recent convictions on rape cases show that the law is not being applied effectively by the courts. Most of the jail terms are below 10 years and mostly based on the criminal procedure code or penal code passed over 50 years ago.
Puntland’s Attorney General Mr. Mohamoud Aw Osman said recently the law is not being fully implemented. He said this is based on an analysis of several convictions on rape cases from 2019. “Many judges are not basing their determinations on the Sexual Offences Law, and this is creating great concern,” said Mr. Osman.
MoJRAR has since been engaging major actors in the justice system. After long debates, players agreed that there is need to nominate and capacitate specialized judges, prosecutors and CID who will be dealing with the sexual misconduct cases. The players have now been trained comprehensively to understand the importance of implementing the 2016 law.
A week-long workshop on the effective implementation of the Sexual Offences Law was held in Garowe in June 2020 by MoJRAR with the involvement of 20 people from the rehabilitation and criminal investigation unit, attorney general’s office, state courts and the Bureau of Forensic Science. The participants included judges, prosecutors and CID government departments.
Acting Head of UNFPA in Puntland Ms. Bahsan Said indicated that UNFPA is committed to supporting the implantation of the law having already provided technical and financial support for the preparation and passage of the legislation.
“The convictions have so far been lenient and discouraging, and this is why we’re now supporting the process to build more capacity for law enforcers and judges,” Said explained.
The participants have seen been exposed to explanations on each article of the law, the importance of DNA and forensic science for the investigation of rape cases, collection and preservation of biological elements at the crime scenes, investigation of rape cases and human rights and gender. The participants were also provided with small pocket size handbooks summarizing the main provisions of sexual offence law.
With such efforts, UNFPA hopes that survivors of sexual offences like Fareeda will eventually access proper justice. The scale and gravity of rape cases in Somalia has recently marked a disturbing escalation of violence which include gang rape.