The first lady of The Gambia, Zineb Jammeh, has spoken in very hard terms against the practice of child marriages in the country.
‘‘Eliminating child marriages should be our priority, to allow young girls to develop and contribute to development. We can’t afford to allow child marriage to hold back our beautiful girls any longer,’‘ she said.
She was speaking at the launch of the #EndChildMarriage campaign which kicked off in the country on Thursday under the auspices of the United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in Gambia.
She also called on traditional authorities in the country to play a role in combating the incidence of children being given out in marriage to older suitors, thereby affecting their development at the health, academic and social levels.
She further disclosed that her foundation would continue work with UNICEF to ensure children enjoy growing in a safe environment.
According to the AU Goodwill Ambassador against forced marriages, Nyaradzayi, ‘‘the statistics in West Africa are alarming. One child is one too many. Let us mobilize at ECOWAS level to end child marriage.’‘
She further reiterated that even though sensitization on the topic was easy, monitoring and combating the phenomenon was difficult, adding that there was the need to support legal and policy actions, to raise public awareness and build social movement against the practice.
The launching coincided with the day of the African Child and two victims of early child marriage had also given their testimonies on the impact of child marriage on their lives at the ceremony.
According to Gambia’s Demographic and Health Survey report launched last year, teenage pregnancy affects almost one in five (18 percent) adolescent women age 15 to 19 in The Gambia.
Launched by the health minister, Omar Sey, on behalf of the finance minister, Abdou Colley, at the Atlantic Hotel in Banjul, the report also revealed that the phenomenon is twice prevalent in rural areas as in the urban.
“Almost one in five (18 percent) adolescent women age 15 to 19 are already mothers or pregnant with their first child… Overall, 18 percent of young women age 15 to 19 have begun childbearing increases with age,” the report stated.
“Furthermore, twice as many teenagers in rural areas as in urban areas have begun childbearing (24 percent versus 12 percent). At the local government level, the percentage of teenagers who have begun childbearing is highest in Basse (33%) and lowest in Banjul (8%).”