The recent passing into law of a bill criminalising child marriage in The Gambia has received plaudits from virtually all sectors and corners of the country. The piece of legislation which came in the form of the Children’s Act (Amendment Bill) 2016 was recently tabled before National Assembly Members by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Hon Mama Fatima Singhateh.
For a law that is put in place to consign child marriage into the history books and also make it a punishable act, its coming has been hailed as a step in the right direction. The worthwhile development, was preceded by a wave of consultations and a sustained campaign over the years by activists and campaigners in the business of women’s empowerment and child protection.
Until now, some parents and other care givers who were into the practice of giving their girl children into early marriages at a young age saw the practice as a way of protecting their daughters from vices like promiscuity and or teenage pregnancy at the expense of their young daughters’ overall physiological and psychological development.
For far too long, many a young girl were given into marriage usually against their will. And while some parents would argue that, the intent and purpose of such arranged or sometimes forced marriages was merely in the best interest of the girl child, they were in fact negating the wellbeing of the girl(s) knowingly or unknowingly.
It is safe to say taking a young girl out of school in preference of marriage, usually to some wealthy man, is both counterproductive and dangerous at a time when the role of the woman in the advancement of nation-states is under scrutiny more than ever before.
This landmark move outlawing child marriage owes a debt of gratitude to the country’s leadership given that the wheels of the legislation were first set into motion by the Head of State by way of a firm declaration he made to ban child marriage. It comes at a time when series of interventions and mechanisms have been instituted in a bid to allow the girl child to grow to her full potential. Central to these is the inroads made in the areas of education and health.
For now though, young Gambian girls can go to school at peace with themselves without being haunted by the specter of early marriage.