The president of the republic of the Gambia on Eid al-Fitr day Wednesday July 6 announced a ban on child marriage.
In his statement on the national television President Yahya Jammeh said there would be a minimum penalty of twenty years jail term for any man who marries a girl under the age of eighteen, whilst the girl’s parent could face twenty-one years imprisonment.
“Child marriage is banned in the Gambia with immediate effects and I will place a very hefty sentence against the practice,” he stressed.
He added: “giving young girls’ hand in marriage means we are destroying their future as they suppose to be in school to have a better education and become responsible in the society”. He maintained that anyone found guilty or know someone guilty of the act, will be send to jail. “This new legislation will be introduce later this month”, he concludes.
Welcoming the new law Ms Isatou Jeng Program Manager The Girls’ Agenda (women’s right organisation) in an interview with her, has this to say: “early marriage deprives girls of education and opportunities and increases the risk of death or serious childbirth injuries if they have babies before their bodies are ready. Child brides are also greater risk of domestic and sexual violence”, she disclosed.
Ms Jeng asserted that governments should engage with local communities to try to change attitudes towards child marriage, instead of threatening families with prison sentences.
“I don’t think locking parents up is the answer, it could lead to a major backlash and sabotage the ban”.
Child marriage is common in Gambia. According to a health survey carried out by the government last year, about 16 percent of women age 20 to 49 were married by 15 and 41 percent by the age of 18.
Nearly one-in-five had a child by the age of 19.
Almost a third of women aged between 20 and 24 in The Gambia were married before the age of 18, and nearly a tenth before 15, according to data from the UN children’s agency (UNICEF).
Last month Gambia became the 13th national in Africa to join the African Union’s (AU) campaign to eng child marriage, which aims to raise awareness of the risks of the practice.