The Gambia has criminalised the practice of child marriage after Lawmakers on Thursday unanimously passed into law the Children Act Amendment Bill 2016.
The Bill followed a pronouncement made by the President last month that banned child and forced marriages in the country.
In tabling the Bill before the Lawmakers, the Attorney General and Minister for Justice stated that the President’s timely pronouncement is to ensure that children are not married off at a wrong age. She said the ban will as well give them the opportunity to get educated and have chances of attaining personal, social and economic development.
AG Mama Fatima Singhateh informed deputies that Section 24 of the Children’s Act in its current (now previous) form contains provisions for the prohibition of child marriage, recognising that children do not have the capacity to enter into a valid marriage. The Act, according to her, criminalises the practice, adding that in spite of the prohibition of Section 24, certain ambiguities in the law has created a loophole that has been exploited over the years to continue the practice.
She said child marriage is a social and humanitarian problem that affects our children particularly the girl-child. “This issue has become one of the most complex and controversial subjects and numerous factors contribute to its continuous practice.” These, she added, include gender inequality, poverty, cultural and traditional practices and lack of awareness, adding that if the bill is passed into law it will serve the dual purpose of punishing offenders as well as serve as a deterrent to potential perpetrators of the practice.
Minister Singhateh said any boy-child or girl-child who is under the age of 18 should be given an opportunity to develop him or herself.
She said the Government of The Gambia under the leadership of President Jammeh is committed to the growth and the welfare of the children in this country.
She also hailed the First Lady for taking the advocacy campaign role in banning the practice. According to Minister Singhateh, it is because of this commitment at the highest level that people must commend and celebrate the banning of child marriage in the country.
Minister Singhateh firmly stated that anybody who violated it will be punished according to the laws of the land. According to her, child marriage compromises children’s overall development, leaving them socially disadvantaged with little or no education, no livelihood skills and opportunities for employment, no self-realisation as well as exposure to health risks and other complications.
“All of these limitations are the reasons why poverty is passed on from generation to generation because children are not psychologically, emotionally and physically ready for marriage life and worse still they are not ready to be parents,” she lamented.
Amongst those present during the session were the Executive Director of the Women’s Bureau, Binta Jammeh-Sidibeh and staff, officials from the UNFPA, staff from the Child Protection Alliance and child right activists.
by Lamin B. Darboe