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Somalia has been worn down by decades of conflict. This year, tens of thousands have died from famine, with countless others cut down in combat. Now Somalis face an increase in rapes and sexual abuse of women and girls.
The Shabab militant group, which presents itself as a morally righteous rebel force and the defender of Islam, is seizing women and girls as spoils of war, gang-raping and abusing them as part of its reign of terror in southern Somalia. Short of cash and losing ground, the militants are forcing families to hand over girls for arranged marriages that often last no more than a few weeks and are essentially sexual slavery.
It is not just the Shabab. In the past few months, there has been a free-for-all of armed men preying on women and girls displaced by Somalia’s famine.
With the famine putting hundreds of thousands of women on the move — severing them from their traditional protection, the clan — more Somali women are raped now than at any time. In some areas, women are used as chits at roadblocks, surrendered to the gunmen at the barrier so that a group of desperate refugees can pass.
In the past two months, from Mogadishu alone, the United Nations has received more than 2,500 reports of gender-based violence. Because Somalia is a no-go zone for most operations, United Nations officials are unable to confirm the reports, leaving the work to fledgling Somali aid organizations under constant threat.
Somalia is a traditional place, where 98% of girls are subject to genital cutting. Most girls are illiterate and relegated to their homes.
The famine and mass displacement, which began over the summer, have made women and girls more vulnerable. Many Somali communities have been disbanded, and with armed groups forcing men and boys into their militias, it is often single women, with children in tow, who set off on the dangerous odyssey to refugee camps.
Aid workers and United Nations officials say the Shabab, who are fighting Somalia’s transitional government and imposing a harsh version of Islam in the areas they control, can no longer pay their several thousand fighters.
Via The New York Times.