Somalian Constitutional Change Lowers the Age of Maturity Leaving Children Potentially Vulnerable

On 30 March Somalia passed a constitutional amendment lowering the age of maturity from the globally recognised 18 to 15. While this change weakens the rights of all children under the Somali constitution, it will likely have the most effect on the rights of girls, placing them at far greater risk of being parties to child marriage. The amendment will also likely jeopardise the rights of children in detention. The enactment of the amendment places Somalia in violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines a child as a person under the age of 18.


Child marriage is a global issue, with UNICEF estimating that at least 12 million girls globally are marriedbefore the age of 18 every year. However, it is a particularly prolific problem in Somalia where, according to the international organisation Girls Not Brides, 36% of girls get married before their 18th birthday and 17% before their 15th birthday, ranking at the 10th highest number of child marriages globally. The statistics demonstrate that the age of maturity being 18 does not prevent child marriages from taking place, but a lowering of the age may make them even more common. Human Rights Watch has also stated that the likely increase in child marriage will disadvantage girls in other areas such as reproductive health, access to education, and protection from abuse. Shortly before the vote Laetitia Bader, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Africa director, urged the Somali parliament to reject the provisions on the basis that they substantially weakened the rights of all children, but especially girls due to the increased risk of child marriage. She also called for Somalia’s international donors to press the government to meet its international human rights commitments.


While under the amendment to the constitution, female children will likely be the most affected, there may be increased confusion when it comes to the detention of all children. While the amendment does not reduce the age of criminal responsibility, which remains at 18, there is some concern it will increase already existing ambiguity surrounding the detention of children. Human Rights Watch noted that “Children in Somalia have long been subject to arrest, detention, and custodial sentences as adults, including in capital cases.” This existing ambiguity will likely only be exacerbated by the amendment which allows for physical development to be the determining factor when determining a person has reached the age of majority. This directly contradicts the requirements under the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (The Beijing Rules) which requires “emotional, mental and intellectual maturity” to be the determining factor when determining whether someone has reached the age of maturity.


The passing of the amendment restricts certain rights of children and as noted by Laetitia Bader, “could subject generations of children to harmful practices.”



Click here for the Human Rights Watch Article.



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