Unrest has risen in Somalia as parliament weighs a bill allowing the marriage of minors.
Precisely when a girl’s sexual organs are mature, it will allow forced marriage as long as the family gives consent.
The bill is a dramatic rework of years of efforts by civil society to put forward the proposed law.
The bill aims to provide more protection for women and girls in one of the world’s most conservative countries.
However, the UN special representative for sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, said in a statement.
The new Sexual Relationship Crimes Bill “will represent a major setback in the fight against sexual violence in Somalia and around the world” and must be withdrawn immediately.
The bill also weakens protection for victims of sexual violence, he said.
Already more than 45% of young women in Somalia are married before the age of 18, according to a United Nations analysis in 2014-15.
Somalia in 2013 agreed with the United Nations to amend its sexual violence laws, and after five years of work, a sexual offenses bill was approved by the Council of Ministers.
But last year the chairman of the DPR sent the bill back.
The new bill “risks legitimizing child marriage, among other worrisome practices, and must be prevented from being passed into law,” said UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet this week.
He warned that his passing would “send an alarming signal to other states in the region.”
Thousands of people in Somalia circulate petitions against the bill, including Ilwad Elman with the Mogadishu-based Elman Peace center.
Somalia’s presidency and health ministry did not immediately comment on Wednesday. It is unclear when the bill will be put forward for a vote.