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Gambia’s President calls for immediate ban on child marriage

Élisa, 12, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, answers questions about child marriage : "A child should first study. A young girl suffers when she is in a forced marriage. Her husband could neglect her, by being with another woman, and the girls is too young to handle these issues." | Photo credit: UNICEF - Dubourthoumieu

The President of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, has called for an immediate ban on child marriage, asking policy-makers to introduce legislation before the end of the month.

“We are destroying the future of our children, who should be going to school,” he said. According to UNICEF (2016), 30% of girls in the Gambia are married before their 18th birthday.

The President added that child marriage would be punishable by 20 years in prison for both the husband and the parents of the girl being married. Religious leaders involved in the marriage would face a similar sentence.

The announcement comes shortly after the launch of a two-week African Union campaign to end child marriage in June. The Gambian campaign was spearheaded by the First Lady of Gambia, Mrs Zineb Yahya Jammeh.

“Gambia’s recent announcement to ban marriages under the age of 18 is encouraging,” said Ruth Koshal, Senior Office for Africa Engagement at Girls Not Brides. “However, laws alone are not enough to end child marriage. It is essential to empower girls, to protect their rights and provide meaningful alternatives to marriage that are valued by communities, such as education.”

She added: “Social change takes take time. It requires action by all which is supported by strong government commitment and political will”.

“We hope these signals from the Gambia will lead to a strong, comprehensive strategy to tackle child marriage, which is developed across all government departments. The role of civil society, UN agencies, girls, youth and donors in helping to develop and implement such a strategy will also be crucial.”

Isatou Jeng, founder of Girls Not Brides members The Girls’ Agenda, spoke to Thomson Reuters Foundation: “I don’t think locking parents up is the answer.” She stressed the need to work with local communities to try to change attitudes towards child marriage, instead of threatening families with jail time.

Legislation is expected to be presented to Parliament by the 21st of July, according to UNICEF Gambia.