The president of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, has announced a ban on child marriage in the country, saying that anyone marrying an underage girl would be jailed for up to 20 years.
Speaking to Muslim elders after Eid prayers, he said there would be a minimum penalty of 20 years in jail for any man who marries a girl under 18. A girl’s parents could face 21 years imprisonment, he added.
“As from today, July 6, child marriage is illegal and is banned in The Gambia”.
“Anyone who marries a girl under 18 years will spend 20 years in jail. The girls’ parents would spend 21 years in jail and anyone who knows about it and fails to report the matter to the authorities would spend 10 years in jail.”
““We are destroying the future of our children, who should be going to school. Even the Imam and those that preside over the marriage ceremony would also be sent to jail.
“And if anyone knows about this and refuses to report it, we will send you to jail for 10 years.”
“If you want to know whether what I am saying is true or not, try it tomorrow and see.”
The President therefore, instructed lawmakers to pass legislation reflecting the new ban before July 21, 2016.
Child marriage is very common in Gambia. According to the UN children’s agency, 46% of girls in The Gambia get married before they are 18. A health survey carried out by the government last year also revealed that about 16 percent of women age 20 to 49 were married by 15 and 41 percent by the age of 18. Nearly one-in-five had a child by the age of 19.
This is quite a very welcome development which we believe would be good if adopted by many other countries especially in Africa.
We however hope it does not lead to chaos in the country which is a predominantly Muslim nation considering the fact that the religion permits child marriage, as we are made to understand.
Anyway, this is not be the first time that President Jammeh is tampering with a long revered tradition and may not be the last!
In December, 2015, legislators passed a bill criminalising female circumcision and introducing prison terms of up to three years for anyone flouting the ban. This came one month after Jammeh branded the practice outdated and ordered its immediate cessation.
Jammeh declared in November that the practice was not required by Islam and that it should be consigned to history, according to a government spokesman.