Somali-American Senator Fights Against Child Marriages in the U.S.

Ilhan Omar, public organizer and social activist, who left a mark on the world in 2016 when she won and became first Somali-American Muslim legislator in the United States is on a battle to end child relational unions in her province of Minnesota.

Omar moved from Somali to the U.S. as an outcast at 13 years old. At only 34-years of age, Omar won a seat as a legislator in the Minnesota House of Assembly speaking to House District 60B.

She is a dynamic and depicts herself as an intersectional women’s activist, presently filling in as the Director of Policy and Initiatives of the Women Organizing Women Network. A piece of that battle is finishing childhood marriages in her state.

The professor and author of “American Child Bride: A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States” by Nicholas Syrett says “child marriage has a long and vibrant history in the United States”.

He notes that “though some boys do marry, the vast majority of marrying minors are girls. This has been the pattern throughout U.S. history. Many brides (90%) who marry under the age of 18 marry older men, sometimes a decade older. Some politicians are worried that this can lead to abuses, including human trafficking.

In Minnesota, children can get married at the age of 16.

In Omar’s home country, Somalia, the legal age for marriage in the country is 18 for both males and females, and girls can get married at 16 with parental consent. But according to statistics by UNICEF in 2017, 8% of girls were married by the age of 15 and 45% by the age 18 in the country.

According to the organization, Girls Not Brides,

“Child marriage in Somalia is largely driven by cultural norms. At 98%, Somalia has one of the world’s highest rates of female genital cutting, illustrating the persistence of patriarchal norms around women’s sexuality.

In addition, al-Shabaab has promoted child marriage as part of the effort to impose its harsh version of Sharia. Human Rights Watch have reported an organised practice whereby al-Shabaab preaches marriage with fighters to girls still in school. There have also been reports of girls abducted and forced into marriage.”

Spectators are curious to see whether Omar’s work in this area in the U.S. will transfer to similar work in her home country.


Written by How Africa

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