A Somali woman walks alone in central Mogadishu. © 2013 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

In February 2019, 12 year old Aisha Ilyes Aden was abducted from her local market in Northern Puntland, Somalia. She was cruelly raped and murdered by her abductors. Three men were sentenced to death after being found guilty of their involvement in her attack and death. Two of these men were executed earlier this year, but the third has been confirmed to have been released after making an agreement to offer the family 75 camels as ‘compensation’. Whatever your views on the death penalty may be, this story is a major cause for concern: a young girl’s life has been reduced to an exchange value and the perpetrator allowed to return to society.

The idea that girls’ lives can be compensated for, that their families can be reimbursed for their deaths, undermines the rights of women and girls in Somalia and across the world. It signals a huge step backwards in the country’s laws and protections for women. In 2016, the Puntland region passed Somalia’s first Sexual Offences Law, criminalising sexual harassment, rape and online sexual offences. Despite this law, violent crimes against women and girls in Somalia remain common, with many women not reporting their attacks due to a lack of convictions, and local police not enforcing the new policies. Furthermore, the law contains problematic aspects such as defining a child as anyone aged 15 and below. This prevents the justice young Somali girls just like Aisha Ilyes Aden need and deserve.

The use of compensation in this case stems from a tradition of victims being forced to accept reimbursement, and sometimes marry their attackers, in order to resolve conflicts between families. Somalia’s laws still allow for these sorts of agreements to be made, undermining the country’s legal system and enabling violent and aggressive attackers to remain in society unpunished and able to recommit.

Violence against women and young girls remains worryingly prevalent in Somalia, despite the introduction of laws to criminalise sexual offences. Aisha’s terrible case demonstrates just how badly the Somali police and government are failing women and girls living across the country. There needs to be a commitment to enforce the Sexual Offences Law, encourage victims to report their attacks and ensure that convictions cannot be overturned by compensation arrangements. Only then will Somali girls be legally protected from the violence and brutality of sexual assaults.

-Phoebe Cawley
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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