Somalia’s military court has sentenced a soldier to death after he was found guilty of raping a four-year-old girl. The soldier, identified as Mohammed Hussein Elmi, confessed to raping the girl in May this year. According to documents presented at the Mogadishu court, the soldier lived next door to the girl’s family in Wadajir district in the capital, Mogadishu.
The chief of the military court, Colonel Hussan Ali Shute, said the court’s verdict was based on evidence, adding that the convict can appeal against the decision if he was not satisfied with the death sentence.
In August this year, two Somali soldiers in the southwestern town of Baidoa were executed by firing squad after they confessed to raping an 11-year-old boy. The soldiers, identified as Liban Hassan Amin, 29, and Farhan Abdulkadir Abdi, 23, were accused of raping the boy in July.
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In recent times, there have been rising numbers of reported rape cases in Somalia, according to the Somali Women Development Centre, which provides medical, psychological and legal support to survivors of sexual violence.
According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), sexual violence is pervasive in Somalia but many cases are not reported due to stigma, fear of reprisal and the lack of confidence in the justice system. Also, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), about one-third of victims of sexual violence in Somalia are children.
Due to the weak justice system in this Horn of Africa state, rape suspects often avoid prosecutions. Also, traditional elders often intervene in rape cases to have it settled outside the formal judicial system through talks among the elders representing the perpetrators and the victim.
In the first six months of 2013, the United Nations reported nearly 800 cases of sexual and gender-based violence in Mogadishu. And between September 2016 and February 2017, the Somalia Protection Cluster reported more than 1,500 incidents of rape in the country.
In March, two girls aged three and four were abducted and brutally raped in a field in a town 30km west of the capital. On April 7, two females aged 30 and 13 were allegedly raped outside Janaale town in the Shabelle region while returning to their village and in May, a four-year-old girl was raped in the capital.
The HRW attributes the spat of rape in Somalia in part to the two decades of civil conflict and state collapse that has created a large population of displaced persons and other people vulnerable to sexual violence.
A study by Oxfam in 2019 noted that women in Somalia are most at risk of being raped when walking to collect water and firewood, using outdoor toilets and sleeping in makeshift huts that lack doors and lighting.