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Security has improved markedly in Mogadishu over the past year, leading to a general revival of the seaside capital.

But militants of the hard-line Islamist group al-Shabab still infiltrate the city and carry out suicide attacks, particularly at high-profile events.

An offensive by African Union and Somali forces pushed al-Shabab fighters out of Mogadishu on Aug. 6, 2011.

A raft of rights

The new constitution offers more rights and protections to women and children than those groups have had before.

The International Development Law Organization, a group that offers legal expertise and resources to governments and civil society groups, said Somalia’s constitution guarantees more fundamental rights than those of the U.S.

“For the first time in 20 years, we have peacefully held such a remarkable assembly in our country. Furthermore, this constitution boosted the morale of the women, whose rights were deprived by the previous constitution and governments,” said Halimo Dahir, a female member of the assembly.

The English translation of the Somali language constitution is 88 pages long. It was drafted by Somalis, international law specialists and members of the Somalia diaspora in the U.S., Canada, Britain and Australia. That international viewpoint and the overseas experience of the Somali expatriates may explain the draft’s numerous individual rights, for example:

No marriage is legal without the consent of both the man and the woman.

No child may perform work that is not suitable for a child’s age, though many children in the country do work.

Each child is to be protected from armed conflict. Somalia has a history of child soldiers on both the government and insurgent side.

“All citizens, regardless of sex, religion, social or economic status, political opinion, clan, disability, occupation, birth or dialect shall have equal rights and duties before the law,” it says. Circumcision of girls is “a cruel and degrading customary practice, and is tantamount to torture. The circumcision of girls is prohibited.”

The constitution says abortion is contrary to Shariah law and is prohibited “except in cases of necessity, especially to save the life of the mother.”

Hard-to-keep promises

Some of these provisions may be hard for the government to enforce. In a country where basic needs such as food are not always met, the constitution says that every person has the right to clean, potable water.

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