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Rights Commission says FGM, child marriage still an issue

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By Alagie Manneh

Despite legislations banning the practices, Gambian children are still exposed to FGM and child marriage including other abuses, according to the NHRC.

Detailing in its annual State of Human Rights report published recently, the commission noted the “minor decrease” in FGM prevalence from 75 percent to 73 percent from 2013 to 2019.

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But it revealed that at least 73 percent of women/girls aged between 15 and 19 had undergone the procedure.

“In The Gambia, the prevalence rate of FGM was recorded as being the highest in Basse with 97 percent and the lowest in Kerewan at 42 percent.

“Child marriage according to the MICS 2018 continues to remain a challenge with 10.9 percent of children married before the age of 15 and 34.2 percent before the age of 18. Although legislative measures exist, enforcement of these laws remains low. As at the end of 2021, no person has been convicted since the passing of the laws prohibiting FGM or child marriage in 2015 and 2016 respectively despite statistics showing that both practices are still ongoing. In addition, children, especially girls and children with disabilities, continue to be left behind in areas of health and education due to socio-economic barriers and location.”

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The commission also highlighted sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children in The Gambia, saying it remains a challenge.

“Factors perpetuating abuse and sexual exploitation include child marriage commonly practiced despite being prohibited by law, and poverty with children from less privileged homes, street children including children selling in the streets being at risk of exposure.

“The Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Exploitation of Children following her visit to The Gambia in 2019 mentioned in her report that sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism also remains a concern in The Gambia with “tourism being a main source of revenue coupled with poverty and a weak protection system” perpetuating the practice.”

It cited limited knowledge of existing reporting mechanisms such as the child helpline, weak law enforcement, prolonged judicial proceedings, deep-rooted culture of silence, stigma, and fear of being revictimized as some of the factors hindering reporting of such practices.

Among other recommendations, it urged the government to make efforts to raise awareness and develop appropriate responses to the socio-cultural and religious drivers of FGM, and to initiate a full enforcement and implementation of laws prohibiting FGM and child marriage as part of its obligation to fulfil the fundamental human rights of girls.

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