At the northern border of Somalia and Ethiopia, a group of teenage boys forced two girls — aged 14 and 16 — into a car, drove them to another location, stripped them and raped them.
The incident occurred on December 6. This weekend, a community court charged the perpetrators with thousands of dollars in fines, as well as up to 200 lashes and 10 years in jail. That’s an unexpected outcome in a country where the perpetrators of rape often pay a small fine and walk free.
The case didn’t get much attention until mid-January, when a video that the boys filmed of the gang rape surfaced online. People all over Somalia responded on social media with messages of outrage as well as sympathy for the victims. A Somali activist group’s GoFundMe campaign raised over 10,000 pounds ($12,000) to help one of the victim’s family — who fled town for fear of being ostracized — establish itself in a new city.
And women’s rights groups called for an unusual step: legal action. They urged authorities in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in Somalia, where the assault occurred, to enforce a new law passed there in September 2016, that for the first time criminalizes all sexual offenses and calls for jail sentences of up to 10 years for rape.
Traditionally, many Somali communities settle rape cases though a system of justice called heer. Clan elders would generally arbitrate such cases. As a settlement, the perpetrators often compensated the victim’s family with camels or other livestock.
The government is still figuring out how to implement its new Sexual Offenses Act, says Puntland’s minister of women and family affairs Anisa Mumin, who recently visited the victims’ families. She says both law enforcement officers as well as judges must be trained to handle sexual violence cases with sensitivity. And the government hasn’t even begun setting up forensic labs to collect and analyze DNA evidence in rape cases.
As a makeshift measure, the community established a special court to handle this rape case, based on Sharia law — with five Muslim religious leaders serving as the judges. Puntland government authorities attended the trial as observers and sanctioned the trial. A local women’s rights group called the Galkayo Center helped advocate for the two teenage girls.
The verdict, delivered Sunday, resulted in a $4,620 fine, 200 lashes and 10 years in jail time for one perpetrator. Each of the other four convicted teens received slightly lesser sentences — with fines of up to $3,500, as well as lashes and five to eight years in jail.
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