UGANDA: Tale of Forced Marriage to Al-Shabaab

Saturday, October 9, 2010
Eastern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Amina Ahmed's letter, typed out in English by a fellow refugee, tells of rape, forced marriage and even beheading of women at the hands of the Islamist militiamen who have overrun much of their country.

"I was living with my aunt in Afgooye District of the lower Shabelle region when [a] warlord assaulted our home as a reason to marry me by force."

Her aunt tried to protect her from the man but he shot her dead. Ms Ahmed fled next door to her neighbour's, but the man followed and shot them all. Then Ms Ahmed fled, braving the perilous trip to reach Yemen.

"This year we have been hearing a lot about forced marriages and rapes," says a member of an aid agency working with Somali refugees in Yemen.

Like most who spoke about the actions of the hardline Islamist al-Shabaab and other militias in Somalia, he refused to have his name published, fearing reprisals against his family still living in Somalia.

The head office of the aid agency also requested their name not be published for fear of attacks on their staff members in the country.

"Unmarried women are forced to marry and if she refuses they say she's a non-Muslim. Many parents choose to send their girls away with relatives and friends so as not to be forced into marriage or raped.

"If a woman refuses a forced marriage, we have reports of them being beheaded and their head sent to their father."

Consumed by war

Since rival clans overthrew the government in 1991, civil war has consumed the country and its people. Out of the anarchy of 15 years of warlords grew a vicious, religiously-motivated militia, al-Shabaab, whose control now extends over large swaths of southern and central Somalia and most of its capital.

Up to one million people have died from war, disease and famine in Somalia since 1991.

For those who can, escape is the only hope. In the first half of this year alone the UNHCR, estimates 200,000 Somalis fled their homes.

Those with the least money, often who have lost the most, come to Yemen. Women like Hawo Yousef. "They hit [my husband] and they wanted to rape me in front of him. He tried to protect me, but unfortunately they killed him with a big knife." Ms Hawo Yousef, said in a letter about her escape to Yemen with her two daughters in 2007.

But a few hours into the journey the boat run out of petrol and her children began to cry because of hunger and thirst.

"I couldn't make my children be quiet and smugglers warned me to silence them, but I couldn't."

"Finally they ripped my children away from me and threw them into the sea. In her letter, handwritten by a fellow refugee and addressed "To Whom It May Concern", Ms Yousef describes her feelings:

Drowning refugees

"I had no ability to take back my kids from them. And I saw my kids dying on the sea.

That compelled me to be mad." Ms Yousef's boat drifted for 13 days and nights before help and fuel arrived. More refugees drowned just metres from Yemen after being forced into the water by the smugglers.