The children

The situation of Women and Children in Somalia

Basic Indicators


The situation of Women and Children in Somalia

UNICEF Somalia/2015/Rich
© UNICEF Somalia/2015/Rich

Somali women and children have been living in the harshest of conditions for over two decades. Consecutive years of droughts and conflict have resulted in repeated crop failure, depletion of livestock, rising food prices, deteriorating purchasing power, eroded coping mechanisms and a perpetual state of emergency, with women and children bearing the brunt as the most destitute and vulnerable.

While, in 2012, Somalia saw positive movement in terms of politics, humanitarian access and food security, the majority of children continue to suffer some of the most severe vulnerabilities and deprivations in the world. Many are still out of reach of UNICEF support. 

On 1 August, 2012, a National Constitutional Assembly in Mogadishu adopted a Provisional Constitution significantly strengthening the rights of children. On 10 September, 2012, a new Somali Parliament, selected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, as President of the Federal Republic of Somalia. A Prime Minister and Cabinet are in place. The Government’s area of influence has expanded through the operations of the African Union Peacekeeping force (AMISOM) and the Somali National Armed Forces. This has resulted in areas opening up to lifesaving humanitarian interventions for the first time in five years. Nevertheless, restrictions imposed by Al Shabaab, in 2011, on UNICEF among several organizations are yet to be formally lifted. As late as August 2012, almost a year after the ban, humanitarian access in 32 of the 51 districts in CSZ were still defined as “extremely restricted/denied”.

By the end of 2012, 2.12 million Somalis, more than half of whom are children, were in an Acute Food Security Crisis, a significant decrease from 4 million at the start of 2012 when areas of the country were still suffering from the famine. The UNICEF-supported FSNAU Post-Gu Nutrition Analysis, and partner reports, showed that children continue to suffer greatly, with 16% acutely malnourished, and 3.5% severely so. A mix of factors contribute to the continued dire situation, including insecurity; restrictions on humanitarian access; reduced coping mechanisms; poor performance of crops; lack of access to markets; restriction of commercial and population movements; lack of income generating opportunities; and deep rooted poverty. High prices present the overriding barrier to food access.

One in 10 Somali children die before their first birthday and one in 12 women die from pregnancy related causes. Somalia has some of the largest numbers of unimmunized children in the world and is thus a reservoir of vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio and measles. Factors leading to health deprivations include an extremely weak health system with few policies; poor infrastructure; weak human resources; insecurity; low demand for services; and partners with low capacity.

Across Somalia, unpredictable rainfall patterns, on-going conflict, and a general lack of maintenance has resulted in only 29% of the population accessing clean water and 39% accessing safe sanitation. Diarrhoea, symptomatic of water and sanitation related illnesses, is closely associated with malnutrition and is the cause of death for 19% of children who die before their fifth birthday. Open defecation rates are as high 83% in rural areas, putting communities at high risk for diarrhoeal disease. Acute Watery Diarrhoea/Cholera remains endemic and claims hundreds of lives annually, particularly in densely populated areas in CSZ, including IDP camps. Access to safe water and sanitation remains extremely low due to weak governance; insufficient skilled staff; weak accountability for service delivery; low/irregular salaries. Inaccessibility and limited number of local service providers contributes to the high cost of providing services. IDPs are particularly vulnerable with 44% of IDPs relying on buying water from sources more than two kilometres away and, on average, costs USD 7.50 per barrel. 

Somalia continues to be one of the worst protective environments in the world due to conflict and displacement; presently regressive social norms; and a complete lack of legislative framework and mechanisms for service delivery. While it is impossible to know the number of children forcibly recruited in 2012, partner reports through the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism of Grave Violations showed 2,008 boys and 43 girls recruited (this number is likely to rise). The new President has pledged his support for the Action Plans to Eliminate Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers and to End the Killing and Maiming of Children, signed in 2012.

UNICEF Somalia
© UNICEF Somalia
Women and children in Somalia are at increased risk of disease and malnutrition, face limited access to basic services, and routinely experience human rights violations.

Girls and women face heinous rights violations: Gender-Based Violence (GBV), early marriage for girls as young as nine and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM/C). Consolidated reports from UNICEF partners from January – October 2012 showed more than 3,753 reported cases of GBV (2% male). GBV is perpetrated with impunity. According to a UNICEF-led survey in 12 border areas in mid-2012, these violations are not considered 'violations' in a culture where the rights of women are simply not considered.  FGM/C is a social convention; girls face social pressure from both family and friends to conform, and is often linked to virginity, fidelity and dowries.

A 2011/2012 Primary School Census in the North was conducted for the first time since 2006/07, showing an increased enrolment of more than 50%, partly as a result of increasing population and stability. Yet still, only 42%of children are estimated to be enrolled in school across the country, and only 36% of those are girls[2]. More girls attend school (33% to 43%), likely a

result of Ministry commitment and increased social awareness. Continuing barriers to education in the North include low government budget allocations, school fees and low quality of teaching.

Education is even more difficult to access in CSZ. While it is impossible to ascertain the number children in school across CSZ, UNICEF and cluster partners helped keep 571,607 children in school through the 2011/12 school year despite famine, displacement and conflict. Education is delivered almost entirely through Community Education Committees in CSZ. These Committees levy fees on families in order to operate schools, creating a barrier to access for the poorest, but inadequate to retain quality teachers.

Unfortunately, on-going insecurity in CSZ has meant little data and analysis on the situation of children in these areas. While a Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey was completed for the North, the data is not yet available. In 2012, UNICEF completed Sector Studies; School Censuses; a Hydrological Survey in the North; and supported Food Security and Nutrition analyses through FSNAU.



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