The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) have commended the Gambia’s decision to criminalise child and forced marriages, describing it as a big win for girls.
In a joint statement issued by the two organisations, they said they have welcomed the pronouncement made by His Excellency the President on Wednesday 6th July 2016, which led to the enactment of the law criminalising the practice.
“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 joint statement read.
“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.”
The statement noted that 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.
Child marriage, the statement added, 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.
“The silenced voices of the thousands of young women and girls forced into marriage before their eighteenth birthday signify complacency and discrimination. Victims 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 criminalising child marriage is a bold step in ensuring that every girl child in The Gambia reaches the pinnacle of her potentials,” said Kunle Adeniyi, UNFPA Gambia Chief of Operations.
The statement added that the decision is appreciated by the United Nations in The Gambia. “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,” Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF Resident Representative in The Gambia added.
The statement further noted that 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.
It also recognised the efforts of Her Excellency the First Lady, Madam Zineb Jammeh through her Foundation, Operation Save the Children and the Department of Social Welfare for being at the forefront of advocacy efforts to end the practice.