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Revealing the world of Somali pirates and their women

Some may argue that such overt affluence is a symbol of the new life in Somalia. But the contradictions in the ancient town of Eyl,…

Some may argue that such overt affluence is a symbol of the new life in Somalia. But the contradictions in the ancient town of Eyl, which is located in Somalia’s semi-autonomous northern Puntland region near the Hafun Peninsula, tell a different story. On the one hand are the flashy homes of the newly rich but not far away tin shacks dot the landscape and the town’s sandy beaches are littered with abandoned wooden boats.

Once a sleepy, impoverished fishing village, Eyl has now become the epicentre of the notorious ship hijacking business which in 2008 cost the world as much as $70 million. And Hassan’s pirate-husband is playing a central role in this increasingly opportunistic business.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (1MB) of the 406 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships reported worldwide in 2009, more than half were attributed to Somali pirates.

For many, however, piracy has emerged as a panacea to the region’s problems which include high unemployment, no public sector finance and diminishing fishing resources. Hassan is certainly one of its supporters. “Yes, my husband is greatly involved in this piracy business,” she says, her face lighting up in a broad smile. “He’s 70-years old and we got married last year when I was 14.” Anticipating the next question she continues: “My parents have no money, that’s why I married him.”

In Somali culture, arranged marriages are commonplace, and the practice is no different on the pirate-ridden shores of Eyl, except here, parents can expect big financial rewards and the promise of a better life. Indeed, the pirates will shower parents with luxurious gifts in exchange for their teenage daughters; the more beautiful they are, the greater the reward.

An Eyl elder, clearly bothered by the erosion of the society’s moral fabric, confides that he has been called upon many times to facilitate negotiations between pirates and parents. “The pirates bring traditional Muslim robes, gold-coated walking sticks, perfumes, camels and money among other highly valued artifacts in the Somali community,” he says.

But there is growing disquiet. Abdi Abdullahi, a local journalist, captures the dilemma: “The dire economic situation in Somalia has led families in the region to sell off their daughters at very tender ages.

They’ll let them go for anything,” he says. “This is not right as money is involved, but nothing can be done.”

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