By Amie Sanneh
Deputies at the National Assembly, on Thursday, 21 July, 2016, passed the Children’s (Amendment) Bill 2016 which seeks to prohibit child marriage and make provisions for the offence of the practice under the Children’s Act of 2005.
Section 2 of the Children’s Act (2005) is amended by inserting immediately after the definition of “child abuse” the following definition- “child marriage” means a marriage contracted between a child and an adult or between a child and another child.”
Section 19 of the said Act is amended in paragraph (a) by inserting immediately after the words “life of the child,” a comma and the words, “such as female circumcision”.
Section 24 of the Act is amended by substituting for it, the following-
“24. Prohibition of child marriage
- A child shall not be capable of contracting a valid marriage and child marriage is prohibited.
- A parent, guardian, or any other adult who willfully-
- Contracts a marriage on behalf of a child;
- Causes a child to contract a marriage; or
- Forces a child to contract a marriage,
Commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment not exceeding twenty years.
- An adult who willfully –
- aids and abets a parent, guardian, or any other adult to commit an offence under sub-section (2),
- conspires with a parent, guardian, or any other adult to commit an offence under subsection (2),
commits an offence and is reliable on conviction to imprisonment not exceeding twenty years.
- An adult who becomes aware of the commission of an offence under sub-section(2) by a parent, guardian, or any other adult and intentionally fails to report, commits and is liable on conviction to imprisonment not exceeding ten years,
- The High Court of The Gambia has jurisdiction in respect of the commission of an offence under sub-sections (2), (3) and (4) by a parent, guardian, or any other adult.”
- Amendment of section 25
Section 25 of the Principal Act is amended by substituting for it, the following –
“(25) Prohibition of child betrothal, etc.
- A parent, guardian, or any other adult who willfully –
- betroths a child to any person; or
- makes a child the subject of a dowry transaction,
commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment not exceeding twenty years.”
The High Court of The Gambia has a jurisdiction in respect of the commission of an offence under sub-section (1) by a parent, guardian, or any other adult,”
The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mama Fatima Singhateh, presenting the bill to the deputies, said it seeks to ban Child Marriage in the country. She described Child Marriage as a social and humanitarian problem that affects the children, particularly the girl child. “This issue has become one of the most complex and controversial matters in recent times,” she remarked.
According to the Minister, numerous factors contribute to its continuous practice such as gender inequality, poverty, cultural and traditional practices and lack of education.
“Child Marriage compromises their overall development leaving them socially disadvantaged with little or no education, livelihood skills, no opportunities for employment, no self reliasation as well as exposure to health risks and other complications,” she stressed.
Justice Minister Singhateh believes that all these limitations are the reasons why poverty is passed on from generation to generation for children are not psychologically, emotionally or physically ready for marriage life or being parents. She said according to research, 30 per cent of girls in the Gambia are married before the age of 18 and approximately 9% are married before the age of 15. She added that amongst women 23.5% from 15 to 19 years are currently married.
She said child marriages are common within the rural communities of the Gambia which is why the wife of the president launched a campaign to end child marriage in the Gambia thus making it the 13th country to launch the AU end child marriage.
Minister Singhateh added that the declaration made by the president on the immediate ban of child marriage on the 6 July, 2016, sets in motion the drafting of a legislation which does not only prohibit the marriage of girls below 18 years but also criminalises the act in order to ensure that any person who causes or encourages the contracting of a marriage of a person under the age of 18years commits offence and will suffer severe punishment in conviction.
With the banning of child marriage, she noted that it was felt prudent to amend the already existing Children’s Act which was amended in 2005. She added that the said Act before its amendment makes provision for the prohibition of child marriage but did not go far enough. The reason why they came up with this bill, she said, is to ensure that it complies with common day practice and protect children from early marriage thus encouraging them to complete their education.
In seconding the bill, the Deputy speaker Fatou Mbye said child marriage affects both boys and girls but girls are more vulnerable. She described this as a long standing practice which does not make it to be correct or to continue as usual. “We must find a way to deter and ban child marriage,” she stressed.
Foday Jallow, National Assembly Member (NAM) for Niamina East, said child marriage is one of the leading causes of maternal death, reduces children from the education system and increases fertility ratio, rapid population growth. This, he went on, is making governments to come up with measures banning child marriage to enable them prepare for the future generation
The NAM for Jeshwang, Haddy Nyang Jagne said all marriages should be based on consent of both parties. “A person cannot consent to a marriage until they are matured enough to understand the consequences of marriage and to be able to disregard any improper pressures,” she said.
The NAMs for Kiang West, Kiang East, Banjul Central as well as the nominated members, nominated members Alagie Saine and Seedy Njie, all lauded the importance of the Bill and highlighted the dangers associated with child marriage.