By Tabora Bojang
The Gambia Government is seeking to repeal the provisions of the births, deaths and marriages registration Act, which if passed will punish parents who fail to register the birth of their offspring.
According to the government proposal, the parent of a child shall, within thirty days after the birth of the child, give notice of the birth either verbally or in writing to the registrar or deputy registrar of the district or place in which the birth occurred.
A person who fails to comply with the section commits an offence and is liable on conviction, to a fine not exceeding D500 or in default to imprisonment without hard labour, for a term not exceeding one month.
After its first and second readings in parliament last year, the bill was referred to the National Assembly Select Committee on women and children which submitted its report and recommendations to the plenary yesterday, during the first ordinary session of the Assembly in the 2021 legislative year.
When a child is born to parents not married
According to the proposed amendment, when a child is born to parents who are not married at the time of birth, the registrar shall not enter the name of any person as father of the child, unless at the joint request of the mother and of the person acknowledging himself to be the father.
If the person alleged to be the father refuses to acknowledge himself to be the father of the child, the registrar shall not enter in the register the name of that person unless a paternity order is obtained from the children’s court confirming the father of the child.
It further proposes that in an instance where an alleged father fails to take responsibility for the child and the mother neither provides the name of the father, the registrar shall at the request of the mother register the birth of the child with the mother’s particulars.
However, several lawmakers including members for Sandu Sami, Niani and Niamina East raised concern regarding the enforcement of the provisions in the rural areas.
Muhammad Mahanera of Sandu said considering the poor health infrastructure of the rural area, it would be insensitive to oblige a parent to give notice of birth within 30 days.
“The 30 days proposal is very short in light of the dilapidated condition of rural health infrastructure. Gambia is not only about Banjul or KM, so rural settlers should be regarded,” the Sandu NAM stated.
Birom Sowe of Niamina East recommended that the health officials should instead be empowered with mobility to be “tasked with going round the rural settings to register child births instead of burdening rural parents.”
Halifa Sallah, member for Serrekunda said the government should ensure that
the “facilities are made accessible to the people so that they don’t make criminals out of innocent individuals.”
For Justice Minister Dawda Jallow, to “have a child registered is one of their first rights,” saying this obliges all parents to do so.
He said the government is doing its utmost to “amend all acts found to be discriminatory against women and girls.”
“The intention is never to create criminals out of ordinary rural people. The provision is there to instill some form of fear in order to induce compliance.”