Backlash fears as president threatens to jail parents in child marriage crackdown

Women’s rights activists on Friday welcomed the Gambian president’s decision to ban child marriage but warned of a backlash against plans to jail parents. They called for the crackdown, announced by Yahya Jammeh in a speech to mark the end of Ramadan, to be introduced as quickly as possible. But campaign group Girls Not Brides said a law alone would not be enough to stop girls from being married before 18. It is essential to empower girls, to protect their rights and provide meaningful alternatives to marriage that are valued by communities, such as education,“ said spokeswoman Ruth Koshal.

"I don’t think locking parents up is the answer … it could lead to a major backlash and sabotage the ban

Isatou Jeng of the Gambian women’s rights organisation Girls Agenda

Almost a third of women aged between 20 and 24 in Gambia were married before the age of 18, and nearly a tenth before 15. Now, the country has become the 13th African nation to get behind the African Union campaign to end the practice. In his speech Mr Jammeh said anyone marrying a girl aged below 18 would be jailed for up to 20 years and the parents could be locked up for 21 years. Anyone who failed to report it, would go to jail for ten years. He added: "If you want to know whether what I am saying is true or not, try it tomorrow and see.”

We are destroying the future of our children who should be going to school. I will jail even the imam who ties the knot and destroy the marriage.

Gambia president Yahya Jammeh