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NHRC tells NAMs to reject repealing FGM law

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By Omar Bah

The chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, Emmanuel Joof, has urged National Assembly Members to reject the bill seeking to legalise female genital mutilation in The Gambia.

The bill, introduced by Almameh Gibba of Foñi Kansala, is seeking to repeal the Women’s (Amendment) Act 2015, which was tabled last week for its first reading.

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It is expecting to be reintroduced on Monday for its second reading.

In a writeup shared with The Standard yesterday, Mr. Joof stated: “It appears that a good number of NAMs are of the opinion that it is better to allow the bill to go to the committee stage, where they will either use delaying tactics to eventually kill the bill or make amendments to the bill.” I believe that this is a dangerous road to take for the following reasons:

He said the bill is very specific in that it wants to repeal the Women’s Amendment Act 2015, which criminalised FGM.

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“There is no room for amendment(s) in that Bill unless NAMs want to introduce other new provisions into the Bill, as people have been talking about, for example, medicalizing FGM or making FGM an option. It is my humble opinion that there is no guarantee that referring the bill to the committee will eventually kill the bill. On the contrary, it will only create more tension and give more relevance to those clamouring for repeal,” he said.

Joof added that it is very obvious that those who want to repeal the law have been very vocal and organised, and they have been able to cow and intimidate those who are opposed to repealing the law. “I do not see this changing.”.

“In fact, taking the bill to the committee level will only embolden them to intensify their campaign and their resolve to repeal the law. As you know, the legal prohibition of FGM/C came about after many years of advocacy, awareness-raising, and struggle by women’s rights organisations and defenders. The WHO, UNICEF, and national research conducted in-country have also revealed the profound health impact of FGM/C on our women and girls before the law criminalising FGM was passed by our own National Assembly,” he noted.

He added: “I am sure you are aware that The Gambia is a party to several international and regional conventions and treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, CEDAW, and the Maputo Protocol. All these instruments place an obligation on the country to uphold the fundamental rights of the girl child and women and also safeguard them from harmful traditional practices. The repeal of the Women’s (Amendment) Act 2015 would be a serious derogation from the Gambia’s obligations to respect, protect, and fulfil the rights of women and girls.”

He argued that repealing the law will be a great setback to the extensive efforts made in community awareness, social mobilisation, and advocacy against FGM/C but also jeopardise the health and wellbeing of children.

“It will therefore be prudent to vote against the Private Members Bill and kill it in the 2nd reading on March 18,” he concluded.

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