The Gambia and Tanzania outlaw child marriage

| July 19, 2016
Yahya Jammeh , The President of The Gambia

Yahya Jammeh , The President of The Gambia

Speaking to a group of Muslim elders in Banjul on Wednesday the 6th of July, the president of The Gambia Yahya Jammeh declared that child marriage is illegal and therefore banned in The Gambia. He stated that “anyone who marries a girl under 18 years will spend 20 years in jail. The girls’ parents would spend 21 years in jail and anyone who knows about it and fails to report the matter to the authorities would spend 10 years in jail” .”The Imam and those that preside over the marriage ceremony would also be sent to jail”.

He thereafter instructed lawmakers to pass a legislation which will reflect the new ban before July 21.

Rhetorically, he stated “If you want to know whether what I am saying is true or not, try it tomorrow and see.”

This is great news, bearing in mind that The Gambia is predominantly a Muslim country and many persons claim that child marriage is part of Islam’s beliefs.

Child marriage is a phenomenon which has greatly defiled the dignity of women, apart from violating a woman’s right to choose the husband she wants to marry. Child marriage has made some girls drop out of school, while others, being physically and psychologically immature for marriage, are prone to being victims of domestic violence.

These are the reasons why there has been campaign to ban child marriage

In a similar vein, the High Court of Tanzania, in a suit filed by the Women’s advocacy group “Msichana (girl) Initiative”, declared that sections 13 and 17 of the National Marriage Act which allowed girls as young as 15 to get married were unconstitutional. Thereby, outlawing all marriages of girls, who are under 18 years of age.

Furthermore, new provisions that were passed by the Parliament last June, state that: “It shall be unlawful under any circumstance for any person to marry a primary or secondary schoolgirl or a schoolboy; a primary or secondary schoolboy to marry any person.” According to the law, those found guilty will face 30 years in prison; and it further provides that: “Any person who impregnates a primary school or a secondary schoolgirl commits an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term of 30 years” .

The enforcement of these women-friendly legislations has raised concerns among stakeholders, but we should be optimistic: these legislations are the first step towards true and important cultural changes. Eventually, the rate of child marriage will reduce.

These are the right steps — in the right direction.