Clamour for enacting new rape bill as high numbers of rapes are reported in Somaliland

There have been 54 reported cases of rape in Somaliland since January, according to figures released by the Somaliland police department this month. The cases include sexual assaults of young boys and girls as young as six and eight years. These figures compare with a total of 80 reported rapes during the whole year in 2017.

The police report, released on 12 April, said 30 men had been convicted in connection with some of the recent offences and had received jail sentences of between seven and 15 years.  Five suspects are being pursued by the police. A further 19 offenders had been charged and were awaiting trial.

According to the report, 25 of the rapes occurred in Hargeisa and 16 in Burao. The other cases were reported from other towns in Somaliland. One man was sentenced to nine years imprisonment on 12 January by the North Western court in Hargeisa for raping a six-year-old girl.

Hibaq Abdirahman, a women’s rights activist in Hargeisa, said the high prevalence of rape cases in Somaliland was extremely concerning.  She called for the speedy enforcement of the new bill recently passed by Somaliland’s parliament criminalizing rape, as a strong deterrent against future sexual offences.

The bill has yet to receive presidential assent. However, it has been hailed as a landmark bill after several years of pressure from rights groups. If passed into law, it will for jail terms of up to 30 years for rape and life imprisonment if the victim is infected with HIV. It will also ban the use of customary law to settle rape cases. Women are often forced to marry their rapists as a traditional way of resolving such cases.