The Gambia is a highly patriarchal society in which male dominance and superiority is rooted in the historical and cultural background of the Gambian society. This has consequently resulted to the high rate of gender-based violence, female genital mutilation and child marriage in particular. Girls who are subjected to such practices are vulnerable to many life threatening issues especially in the areas of health and general wellbeing.
Although The Gambia is a party to many international and regional treaties that prohibit the practices of both FGM and child marriage, it was not until recently that these harmful traditional practices were banned in our country. The presidential pronouncement on the ban on FGM came as a surprise to many, as well as a moment of celebration for activists that have been campaigning against the practice for over three decades now.
The Women’s (Amendment) Act 2015 bans FGM and imposes stringent punishments for perpetrators. For example, section 32A imposes an imprisonment of three years and or a fine of fifty thousand Dalasis for persons that engage in the practice and life imprisonment where death has occurred as a result of the practice. Section 32B imposes a three year jail term and or a fine of fifty thousand Dalasis for persons that aid, abet or facilitate the process of circumcision and a sum of ten thousand Dalasis for those persons that have knowledge of the commission of the practice, but willfully fail to report it.
Another advocacy success is the recent Children’s (Amendment) Act 2016, replaced the many ambiguous sections of the earlier 2005 Act which encouraged the practice of child marriage, such as giving a clearer and more meaningful definition of who a child is.
The ban on both FGM and child marriage are worthy of celebration as they manifest political will on the part of the state which is very instrumental in any cause or campaign. However, a lot more has to be done for these laws to be effective in order to eliminate these practices in entirety. The existence of laws alone cannot eliminate a practice. A lot more has to be done, including:
First, there needs to be effective implementation and enforcement of the laws. The state must develop guidelines on how government ministries, especially the Ministries of Justice and Interior, and the Judiciary should address cases of FGM and child marriages. The guidelines should clearly spell out:
- the responsibilities of the ministries and agencies concerned
- referral procedures within the government structure
- mandates of officials who would handle such cases and remedies
- protection measures for victims of FGM and child marriage
Furthermore, harmonisation of all the different types of the laws in The Gambia is paramount. For example, the 1997 Constitution recognises Sharia law in matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance to members of the communities it applies. These discriminatory provisions of the Constitution which uphold personal law and permit them to override or curtail the rights of women and girls must be repealed.
Finally, the total elimination of these practices in The Gambia cannot be realised with the sole intervention of the state. The continued and active involvement of CSOs, NGOs, the media, activists, the private sector and other relevant stakeholders is relevant. In playing our parts, we should take a more proactive role in litigating on issues concerning FGM and child marriage and test the existing legislation in the domestic courts of The Gambia to give them effect.
We should also continue to conduct trainings and awareness raising programmes for duty bearers and the community on the laws governing FGM and child marriage as well as the effect they have on girls. Sensitising on these laws can also be done through the use of media to reach a larger part of the population. In addition, we should also continue to engage traditional and religious leaders through dialogue and lobby with them to discourage these practices.