By Momodou Darboe
The Gambia’s march towards ending child marriage in the country was on Tuesday given a fresh impetus now that the Civil Marriages Amendment Bill 2020 has been debated by lawmakers and referred to the National Assembly Business Committee or a committee of the entire House for second reading.
The amendment bill has been moved by the minister of justice and was enthusiastically received by some law-makers, some of whom, however, decried the lack of effective enforcement of laws to deter crimes.
The Civil Marriages Amendment Bill 2020 seeks to bring marriages into conformity with the constitution of the land and according to Justice Minister Dawda Jallow, since civil marriages are authenticated at the justice ministry, marriage below the legal age is invalid.
“This is [civil] marriage and it is celebrated at the ministry of justice which means the law is officiating the marriage. And we cannot officiate something that is unconstitutional. So, these changes precisely are bringing these provisions in line with the constitution that any marriage involving a person that is below the age of 18 is invalid if the marriage is… at the ministry of justice and the attorney general’s office,” he stated.
Meanwhile in his contribution to the debate on the bill, the Member for Banjul Central, Muhammed Ndow, said : “I am totally against children getting married before 18 and most of the time, it is not their consent. We have a problem in The Gambia…Maslaha syndrome is a problem in The Gambia. Sometimes enforcement of these laws is a problem because sometimes we have children marrying before 18 and nothing is done about it. And it is the order of the day. People are getting married before 18. People sometimes know this…..even ourselves, we see such things in our communities but we ignore them.”
He urged the public to report instances of child marriage to ensure there is enforcement.
Halifa Sallah of Serekunda told the House: “The purpose of the bill, which constitutes the objects and reasons, is very, very clear. The Constitution of the Republic is the supreme law of the land. And sub-section 4 of the Constitution asserts the supremacy of the constitution. So, all laws must be brought into conformity with the constitution otherwise those laws must become null and void. So, what is very clear is that the marriage that we call civil marriage is marriage that is registered by the state. So, the state-the custodian of the law-must enforce the law. And the branch of the state-the executive-must speak the language of the constitution. And that language is also the language of the courts. So, what is being done now is to ensure the state that is responsible for registering marriages should not register a marriage of a minor.”
The Member for Wuli East, Suwaibou Touray, described the bill as non-controversial and Ousman Sillah of Banjul North enthused that it[bill]has enjoyed the support of stakeholders and is in concordance with many international instruments.