NHRC recommends Gambia to criminalise marital rape

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By Tabora Bojang

In his report before the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW, in Geneva Switzerland, National Human Rights Commission chairman Emmanuel Joof has urged the Committee to recommend that Gambia amends the Sexual Offences Act to include the offence of marital rape.

Chairman Joof, an international human rights lawyer, said this will effectively address sexual and gender-based violence in Gambia. The NHRC chairman was part of the Gambian delegation headed by Fatou Kinteh, the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare. 

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Delivering his report at the experts committee review, the sixth periodic review of The Gambia in respect of the implementation of the Convention on eliminating discrimination against women and girls, Emmanuel Joof further explained that although the NHRC appreciates efforts of the Gambia government in combating sexual and gender-based violence, including the enactment of legislation and community engagements by Civil Society Organisations to raise awareness, there is still a high prevalence of gender based-violence which requires amendment of some laws as well as effective implementation of laws that are passed to stem it.

“The TRRC thematic hearing on SGBV, DHS 2019-2020 and the NHRC 2021 Study on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace show a high prevalence of SGBV in the country. Most institutions do not have a Workplace Sexual Harassment Policy. Reporting is still low due to factors such as stigmatisation, fear of reprisal and revictimization, and online shaming. The efficiency and impact of the Gender and Child Welfare Units and the One-Stop Centres are severely hampered by limited financial, human and material resources. Marital rape is not prohibited. The NHRC urges the Committee to recommend to the State to amend the Sexual Offences Act to include the offence of marital rape, effectively implement the Domestic Violence Act and the Sexual Offence Act (2013), engage communities to raise awareness of SGBV, implement and popularise its White Paper implementation strategy on the TRRC Report, particularly the theme on SGBV and put in place adequately resourced care and protection services, programmes, and strategies for GBV victims,” Joof told the committee in Geneva Thursday.

The NHRC boss also raised concern over the prevalence of human trafficking in the Gambia, citing the 2021 and 2022 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons reports and the 2019 report of the Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children on her visit to The Gambia.

Chairman Joof said the Commission is concerned about the inadequate implementation mechanisms for the prevention, protection, and prosecution of human trafficking and recommend to the committee to urge the Gambian state allocate more funds and technical support to NAATIP to realise their mandate in tackling human trafficking.

He further highlighted that women in The Gambia continue to be underrepresented in political and senior decision-making positions as he recommended to the state put in place special measures to increase the number of women in senior public offices. Chairman Joof also lamented that despite prohibiting marriage of children under 18, traditional practices such as FGM/C are still practised across the country.

“There is a “weak enforcement with no one prosecuted since the amendment of the [Children’s Act] in 2016. Debates on issues of equality in marriage and family relations are ongoing although there has not been much progress in the harmonisation of national legislation, including the Constitution, the Women’s Act (2010) and personal laws (Sharia and customary law) with the Convention. The State is yet to replace the term “equitable” with “equal” in the Women’s Act (2010) as regards women’s access to property and to ensure that judges interpret it accordingly in their judgements. The NHRC urges the Committee to recommend to the State to undertake a study on the good practices of other countries with Muslim populations which have non-discriminatory personal status laws in line with the [CEDAW] Convention.

Introducing the Gambia’s report, head of delegation Minister Fatou Kinteh, highlighted that government devised series of policy strategies and laws including a national action plan which prioritised the elimination of FGM/C. Ms. Kinteh also reported that a database was being developed to register information on key gender-based violence indicators.

Also responding to concerns from a committee expert about stigmatisation and marginalisation of the LGBTQ community, the minister said persons belonging to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, and intersex communities were not mistreated and abused in the Gambia.