UNICEF The Gambia welcomes the declaration by His Excellency the President of The Islamic Republic of The Gambia to ban child marriage in the country, effective 6th July 2016. We applaud the strong leadership shown by His Excellency the President, demonstrating government’s commitment to protect and fulfill the rights of children.

Child marriage is a violation of the rights of girls, endangering their health, educational opportunities and increasing their vulnerability to violence. The 2013 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) indicates that over 40 per cent of women aged 20 – 49 in The Gambia were married before the age of 18 years, while 16 per cent of women of the same age cohort got married before they turned 15. This practice denies girls their right to education and freedom to control their bodies; it also endangers their health, and exposes them to the risks associated with maternal complications, HIV infection and Gender-Based Violence.

This unprecedented move by the Government of The Islamic Republic of The Gambia is a great win for the people of the country, development organizations and partners, and especially the girls who are potentially at risk of child marriage.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) calls upon member states to ensure that all children – boys and girls – realize their full rights to develop, thrive and reach their fullest potential. UNICEF is mandated by the UNCRC to work with member states in building safe and conducive environments for children to realize their rights, including the right to be protected from harmful practices, including child marriage.

UNICEF is committed to continue working with the Government of the Islamic Republic of The Gambia in the drafting of the comprehensive legislation that bans child marriage and provides support for victims as a crucial element in the fight to eliminate child marriage. UNICEF will also continue working with the Government of the Islamic Republic of the Gambia and Civil Society Organizations to put this legislation into practice, by putting in place guidelines, guidances and programmes to end child marriage and protect the rights of the girl child. UNICEF trusts that the government’s commitment will turn into practice, and child marriage will no longer have place in the Gambian community.

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