A big win for girls on the banning of child marriage in The Gambia
Banjul, 27 July 2016: The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) welcome the pronouncement made by His Excellency President Yahya A. J. J Jammeh on Wednesday 6 July 2016 banning child marriage in the Islamic Republic of The Gambia, and the 21 July 2016 enactment of the Children’s Amendment Bill (amendment of the Children’s Act 2005) by The National Assembly, criminalizing the act. This significant turning point in development for the country came less than a year after the unprecedented presidential pronouncement in December 2015 banning Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in The Gambia.
The amendment of the Children’s Act 2005, makes the marriage of any child below the age of 18 years illegal in the country with a penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment for both the parents and husband of the child.
Child marriage is a violation of the rights of girls and an obstacle to attaining the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially Target 5.3 which calls for the elimination of all harmful practices, including child, early and forced marriages and female genital mutilation.
Unfortunately, many girls in The Gambia are at risk. Latest figures show that over 40 per cent of women aged 20 – 49 in The Gambia were married before the age of 18 years, while 16 per cent of women of the same age cohort married before they turned 15.
Child marriage often prevents girls from enjoying social and economic opportunities, contributes strongly to the continued cycle of poverty in poor communities and perpetuates the high incidence of infant and maternal mortality. Further, many girls are at risk of developing fistulas during delivery which invariably leads to social stigma and isolation.
“…the silenced voices of the thousands of young women and girls forced into marriage before their eighteenth birthday signify complacency and discrimination. Majority are denied the opportunity of growing as human capital, as an asset for our communities and country and this unfortunately translates to lost opportunity. This ban and enactment of a law criminalizing Child Marriage is a bold step in ensuring that every girl child in The Gambia reaches the pinnacle of her potentials…”– Mr. Kunle Adeniyi, UNFPA The Gambia Chief of Operations/Head of Office.
Appreciated by the United Nations (UN) in The Gambia, this ban follows the recent launch of activities under the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa.
“Ending child marriage is a daunting but possible task. It is recognition of this fact that led to the March 2016 signing of the new UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage.”– Mrs. Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF Resident Representative in The Gambia. She added that this is the second global UNFPA-UNICEF programme following that of FGM/C; and building on the results and lessons learned from the FGM/C joint programme, both agencies will work to support the government to accelerate action on ending child marriage in The Gambia.
The Government of The Gambia has in place policies and programmes addressing the practice, and works closely with national and international partners, using proactive and multi-faceted strategies to reduce and ultimately end the practice. Her Excellency the First Lady, Madam Zineb Jammeh through her Foundation, Operation Save the Children and with the Department of Social Welfare, has been at the forefront of advocacy efforts to end the practice, leading to the launching of the African Union’s End Child Marriage Campaign in the country on 16 June 2016.
With all that has been done, there is still some more work to do. The UNFPA-UNICEF joint programme, through its partnership with the Government will engage stakeholders at all levels to ensure that all efforts are galvanized in ending child marriage. At the policy level, the UN will strengthen its current efforts with government to ensure fully strengthened national legislations, policies, guidelines and tools necessary to guide programmatic work on ending child marriage. Support will be provided for the popularization of the recently enacted law to adequately protect girls from child, early or forced marriage, and continue to work towards a more conducive child protection environment in the country. At the community level, the UN will continue its support for grassroots advocacy to address many of the cultural practices and behaviors that place young women and girls at increased multiple health risks, including HIV.