The United Nations has expressed concerns about attempts by Somali lawmakers to pass a new bill that allows child marriage and contravenes relevant international conventions.

In separate statements, the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said the Sexual Offenses Bill, which was approved by Somalia’s cabinet, may have been changed by a parliamentary committee in a manner that allows child marriages.

The UNFPA expressed concern about the inaction of parliament to introduce the bill adopted by the cabinet and submitted by the Ministry of Women and Human Rights in 2019 for reading and passage into law. “We are calling for the immediate passage into law of the Sexual Offenses Bill, which has been pending adoption by the parliament.

The law will be vital in preventing and criminalizing all sexual offenses,” UNFPA Somalia Representative Anders Thomsen said in a statement issued Sunday evening.

Thomsen called for the strengthening of protection systems as women and girls continue to be at high risk of experiencing gender-based violence.

The UNFPA said it does not support any bill with the potential to violate the rights of women and girls and expose them to further violence and deprivation nor does it support a bill that deviates from norms and standards of international human rights

The Sexual Offenses Bill criminalizes child marriages and other offenses against women and children such as forced marriages and female genital mutilation. UNSOM also expressed concern over the tabling of a “deeply flawed” bill that allows child marriage.

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