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A new forensic lab launched in central Somalia could transform how the Puntland state government handles cases of rape and gender-based violence, and possibly create a model for the rest of the country to follow.

The Puntland Forensic Center, funded by the Swedish government and supported by the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), was opened September 6. It brings advanced DNA testing capabilities to a country still lacking in paved roads and reliable electricity.

The lab opened less than a year after Puntland enacted its Sexual Offenses Act, the first law in Somalia to criminalize sexual offenses and impose harsh penalties, including jail time, fines and public lashing, on the perpetrators.

The lab was designed to provide critical scientific evidence to the police and officials investigating and prosecuting crimes under this new law. 

As we were helping [the Puntland government] develop that piece of legislation, the question came of, 'How do we enforce that legislation when it is finally approved?'" said Nikolai Botev, UNFPA's Somalia representative.

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