The Gambian parliament last week passed the Children’s Amendment Bill 2016, banning child marriage, ordering that offenders will face 20 years in prison, as part of the government’s commitment to fight and prevent the prevalent practice. According to reports, the bill, which was passed by the National Assembly also notes that aiding and abating a child marriage is now an offence, and on conviction, those responsible will be imprisoned for 20 years.

The provision comes after President Yahya Jammeh’s recent declaration of a ban on child marriage. The landmark decision has been hailed by many rights groups and citizens.

The bill now awaits President Jammeh’s signature before it becomes law.

The bill also follows an ongoing sensitization campaign, which was launched last month. The government declared June, “the month on ending child marriage”  and First Lady Zineb Yahya Jammeh led the the African Union campaign called End Child Marriage in the country.

The new provision is welcome and it is an important and commendable step to fighting child marriage. Forced and child marriage is a major issue in Gambia. According to Girls Not Brides, approximately 1 in 3 in the Gambia are married before the age of 18.

While the bill has been welcomed and lauded by various rights groups, as the step in the right direction to protect the rights of children, particularly young girls, other efforts need to be actively employed to ensure the effectiveness of laws prohibiting child marriage.

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Rights campaigners have found that child, early and forced marriage is fuelled by among other factors, “intersections between gender discrimination and poverty; poor access to education and health services; customary practices; religious beliefs; and weak justice mechanisms”.

Thus, there is need invest in education and advocacy programmes to change the mind-sets of people on child marriage to end the practice and ensure girls’ rights to health, education and opportunity are protected and respected.