Somalia’s Decision to Lower Adult Age to 15 Met With Criticism

As Somalia’s Parliament convenes, the contentious issue of lowering the majority age to 15 is under scrutiny.

Human Rights Watch urges Somalia’s lawmakers to stand firm against any constitutional changes that would undermine the rights of children.

Scheduled for March 30, 2024, both chambers of Parliament are slated to vote on amendments that could lower the age of majority, potentially exacerbating child marriage and diluting standards of juvenile justice. There’s also concern about the possibility of permitting certain forms of female genital mutilation.

Laetitia Bader, Deputy Africa Director at Human Rights Watch, emphasizes the importance of preserving constitutional protections for children, particularly girls. She calls upon Somalia’s donors to pressure the government to uphold its international human rights commitments.

Efforts to finalize the review of Somalia’s 2012 provisional constitution have intensified since late 2023, with the Independent Constitutional Review and Implementation Commission proposing amendments to the first four chapters. These amendments touch upon issues such as the age of majority and the criminalization of female genital mutilation.

Under the current provisional constitution, a child is defined as anyone under 18. However, the proposed amendments suggest lowering the age of “maturity” to 15, a move that contradicts Somalia’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Lowering the age of maturity to 15 could significantly increase the risk of child marriage, affecting girls’ health, education, and protection from abuse. According to Girls Not Brides, a significant percentage of girls in Somalia are married off before the age of 15.

Furthermore, the proposed amendments link physical development to adulthood, deviating from international standards that emphasize emotional and intellectual maturity.

While the amendments propose retaining juvenile justice standards for individuals under 18, there are concerns about potential ambiguities in Somali law regarding the age of majority. This could lead to children being treated as adults in the justice system, a practice that has been observed in the past.

Apart from the age of majority, the proposed amendments also raise concerns about female genital mutilation, a widespread practice in Somalia. While the provisional constitution prohibits female circumcision, it does not provide a clear definition, leaving room for interpretation.

Human Rights Watch advocates for a complete ban on all forms of female genital mutilation in the constitution, aligning with calls from UN bodies. The practice of female genital mutilation has severe physical and psychological consequences for women and girls.

As Somalia’s Parliament considers these amendments, there’s a growing apprehension that constitutional reform could expose future generations to harmful practices. Human Rights Watch emphasizes the importance of prioritizing children’s rights in any constitutional changes.

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