“We should advocate for the enactment of laws that ban FGM”
Says President of Voice of the Young
Welcome to another edition of Children’s Corner. In today’s edition, we are featuring an interview with Ms. Mariama Jallow, the President of Voice of the Young. She will be talking about the advocacy her organization is involved in regarding Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Child Labour, Early Marriage and a host of interesting issues affecting children.
Children’s Corner: Can you introduce yourself to our esteemed readers?
Mariama: My name is Mariama Jallow. I am a 17 year old Arts student at Nusrat Senior School. I am also an activist currently serving as the president of the Voice of the Young under the Child Protection Alliance (CPA).
Children’s Corner: What is the motivation behind this personal commitment?
Mariama: I started activism 3 years ago as part of my extra curricular activities in school, and from there I was chosen to represent my school at the National Child and Youth Advisory Board at a child rights training. In fact my participation in that training has helped in clearing some of the misconceptions I had about child’s right. You see, if you live in an environment where everyone tells you that ‘child’s rights’ are what spoils children, you tend to believe this misconception. I have been hearing other people speak ill of child’s rights and this gave me a negative impression of it, but when I was trained, I asked myself these questions: Why is it that when a child breaks a cup, she or he is beaten or shouted at but when an adult does the same, she or he is not beaten? Why is it that everybody yells at me when I mistakenly do something wrong and if it were an adult, they would accept it as a mistake?
Such misconceptions were cleared and they were telling me these are the things people fail to understand when we talk about child’s right. It is not all the time beating the child. It talks about giving the child what he/she needs. I then understood why so many people have a misconception because they don’t know what it is about. From that training, it got into my spirit and I love volunteering for children and from there I went to join the Voice of the Young and they started motivating me and putting that spirit in until now I have become a chronic child’s rights activist.
Children’s Corner: What is the Voice of the Young doing to improve the conditions of children and promoting their rights?
Mariama: Voice of the Young is really trying its best to promote the rights of children and we are under CPA, which is just like they are the parent and we are the children. We at the Voice of the Young speak for ourselves and the rest of the children who do not have the opportunity to speak for themselves. Any issue that CPA is working on, concerning children, we do participate fully. We have our meetings every week and whenever there is something to be done, they ask for our consent, participation and recommendation. They involve us in everything that they do, so that we can advocate for our rights since it is not only adults that need to know about our rights, but the children as well who are equally concerned. We as children need to know our rights since other children have also some misconceptions about child’s right. You will see someone who will say that it is her/his right to use a mobile phone in class when it is not written in any convention that one has the right to do so. So for us, to advocate for our rights and to demand for them as well, because adults must feel that it is necessary for them not to speak for us. We need to speak for ourselves because we are the ones facing the challenges and we are the ones being violated. So people should hear it, as they say, from the ‘horse’s mouth’ to be able to solve our problems. We are involved in other voluntary activities because we advocate for other children and we consider the best interest of all children. We don’t discriminate anyone and this is why we include the orphans and have even gone to the orphanage at SOS Children’s Village to interact with them and make them feel that they are part of the society and that people who are out there should equally care for them. We also went to another orphanage in Brikama to donate some clothes and this is the project we are currently undertaking in an ongoing process. We gather used clothes, shoes, books and other stuff that are in very good condition and donate them to the orphanage. We have started with Brikama and it was successful. People always say that we advocate for our rights and we don’t talk about our responsibilities, so we are helping other children and contributing our quota to the development of our society by volunteering.
Children’s Corner: FGM continues to be the most sensitive topic in our society and it is a serious human rights abuse in the Gambia. As an activist, how will you advocate for the enactment of a Law to criminalise it?
Mariama: One important thing that you have said is the enactment of a law. We should advocate for the enactment of laws that ban FGM in the country. The training that CPA had with the National Assembly members was mainly to sensitise them, because they are the number one duty bearers. They are the law makers who should not only enact laws but ensure their implementation. We need a specific and precise law that bans FGM in The Gambia. There is a law but it is subject to personal law. We are still advocating for the parliamentarians to come up with such a law and hope that by engaging in extensive radio programmes, they would ban the practice because it is inhumane, to be honest. All those who are engaged in or are supporting the practice, do use religion and culture to back themselves. But when you have a culture and you realise that it is bad, I guess it is better to prevent rather than promote it. I believe our ancestors were practicing it because they saw something good in it and did not consider the negative aspects. But now the world is changing and we see that many people are suffering from the effects of it. If you look at it, people are not condemning FGM and early marriage just for condemn sake, but have scientific facts to support their position.
We deem it necessary to advocate for a ban as it is affecting most girls. If you talk to the victims who are suffering from its effects, then you will know their plight. When you look at children who are sealed when they are being circumcised and when the seal is being removed when they are about to get married they feel excruciating pain as there is no anaesthesia to reduce it. They use either razor blades or knives to carry out such operations. What pleasure do we derive from such a practice? On that same day you are to go and spend the night with your husband.
I guess everything that we do should benefit us, but if we are getting pain from it, should it not be stopped? And the worst of it is when that person is a child who is forced into marriage. Imagine having been sealed and the seal is removed and you have to go and spend the night with someone who is older than you, and not only the age but that you are not physically, emotionally and mentally mature enough to experience such physical experience. This is really a very difficult moment for the girl child and should therefore be banned outright.
To be continued