Prison term

Gambia ban on child marriages sparks fear of backlash

Gambian women in the capital Banjul. President Yahya Jammeh has instituted an immediate ban on child marriage. (REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly)

Women’s and girls’ rights activists have welcomed the decision by Gambian president Yahya Jammeh to ban child marriage, while warning that severe penalties on parents could spark a backlash. Jammeh announced this week that the ban would be effective immediately, and breaching it would be punishable by 20 years in prison for both the husband and the parents of the girl being married. Those who were aware of a marriage and didn’t report it could face a 10-year prison term. One-third of girls in the country are wed before they turn 18.

Wary of reprisals, Isatou Jeng, of the Gambian women’s rights organization Girls Agenda, suggested the government engage with local communities in changing attitudes toward child marriage, rather than adopt the more heavy-handed approach of instituting prison sentences. “I don’t think locking parents up is the answer … it could lead to a major backlash and sabotage the ban,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Other activists expressed concerns the ban could drive the practice underground, if the cooperation of religious leaders is not won.

Read the full story at The Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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