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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Justice Minister warns enforcing anti-skin bleaching law will cause chaos

By Omar Bah

The Minister of Justice has told lawmakers that prosecuting offenders of skin bleaching will cause chaos in the country. 

Dawda Jallow was tabling the skin bleaching (prohibition) (repeal) Bill, 2020 that seeks to make skin bleaching legal in The Gambia.  The bill is under decree number 65, 1995 of the Criminal Law and it came into force on the 1st of January 1996 during the AFPRC reign, when there was no parliament in place.

“I wonder if the bill was a normal bill whether it would have passed. It is not a creature of a bill of the National Assembly. I don’t know whether if it was a normal bill that goes through normal parliamentary scrutiny, it would have been in our statue books at the moment. Nonetheless, our constitution has adopted some of these decrees as part of the laws of The Gambia and we are here trying to repeal it,” Minister Jallow said.

He continued: “The non practicality of implementing the legislation is not entirely an inability on the side of the state and to be honest with you, if you want to implement the law the chaos it might create in society is something that needs to be thought about and you cannot close your eyes to that. If you ask me for example as a prosecutor, my office would prosecute different kinds of offences but how would you expect my staff to prove before the court an offence of skin bleaching?”

The minister further explained the main exhibit will be the body of the accused person “and I don’t know of any offence where we subject the body of the accused as exhibit because even assaults that cause bodily injuries go to a hospital for a medical report which will be sufficient. But for skin bleaching, I am not sure whether our hospitals are ready to receive them to analyse their bodies to produce a medical report on whether somebody is bleaching or not. So the only other way is to put the accused into the witness box and tell the court to look at her if she is bleaching.

“If you are technically telling us it is a law that came in to being without any parliamentary oversight whatsoever and now you are telling us to arrest people and prosecute them for something, we are telling you it is practically impossible. It is difficult. It is grossly discriminatory because it involves mainly women and the other issue is that we would not be able to have enough prisons to handle the number of accused persons. I cannot come here and dictate you on what to do but I know the law is just existing for the sake of existing,” Minister Jallow argued.

The NAM for Serekunda West, Madi Ceesay said he is against the repealing of the bill while Sandu lawmaker Muhammed Mahanera said he would never support such a law.

He argued: “I thank the Honourable members who have voted against it. Honourable Speaker, there is a purpose of the human being to live on the earth. This is not my word, it’s a word from our creator. The act of bleaching we all know has so many implications. One, either you’re trying to establish a relationship or you’re trying to promote prostitution.”

The NAM for Serekunda, Halifa Sallah said: “It has been impossible to implement because the wives of the VIPs, religious leaders, people you classified to be very much respected and even those who crafted the law have been bleaching their skin. If ambassadors or wives of other presidents who bleach came into the country, would you order for their arrest or would you say they have diplomatic immunity? Do you anticipate that all those people will be arrested and taken to court? Let us be honest, if you are talking about religion you have to be honest and answer that question.”

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