By Arret Jatta
The newly elected Children National Assembly of The Gambia (CNAG) urged The Gambia Government “to fulfil its commitments and take action [to address] child rights now once and for all” during its second sitting on 12th August 2023. The CNAG consists of 105 children members representing the entire country and held sessions in the New National Assembly Building in Banjul in August 2023 during Parliament’s recess.
According to UNICEF “children in The Gambia still face a high prevalence of violence, including corporal punishment, high rates of child marriage, female genital mutilation, and physical and sexual abuse, particularly against girls in schools, communities and the tourism sector. Social norms and values, including a culture of silence, pose a big challenge to the consistency of child protection services and weaken the child protection system”.
CNAG member for Kanifing, Hon Tida Barrow read out a statement which gives more insight on the role of the Children’s Parliament. “Noting the fact that Children National Assembly of The Gambia (NAG) is a child-led, non-statutory body established by the Government of The Gambia, through the Gambia National Assembly and the National Youth Council in partnership with UNICEF, The Gambia, Ministry of Gender Children and Social Welfare, Child Protection Alliance, ChildFund, The Gambia and National Youth Parliament with the ultimate aim to promote and advocate for the rights of all children as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and all other legal instruments pertaining to the promotion, protection and development of children in The Gambia,” said Hon Tida Barrow.
Speaking about the need for more action Hon Toda Barrow highlights that “despite the progress made, there are still challenges the country is grappling with which calls for collective action by the Government and other relevant stakeholders to address them”.
She called on the government to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of every child in The Gambia irrespective of their background, religion, ethnicity, disability or any other consideration or status.
The young representative bravely called on the Government to “adequately and effectively enforce and implement all the laws which protect children from all forms of sexual abuse, violence, exploitation, hazardous labour and trafficking, adequately and effectively implement and enforce the Children’s (Amendment) Act 2016 which prohibits child marriage and the Women (Amendment) Act 2015 which prohibits Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting and diligently prosecute violators of these laws”.
UNICEF website highlights that “the 2018 Multi Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) [states that] 50.6 per cent of girls between 0 to 14 years old, and 27.3 per cent of girls between 0 and 4 years old have undergone female genital mutilation/ cutting (FGM/C)”.
Hon Barrow demanded that the Government ensure basic and secondary education is totally free, compulsory, qualitative, accessible and available to all children, including children in Arabic Schools known as “Madarasas”, and also establish standard science and IT laboratories in all schools in The Gambia. She also requested for the Government to support their effective functioning and to “provide adequate school buses in all the regions of The Gambia, particularly for rural Gambia”.
Turning her attention to the Gambian public she urged society to break the culture of silence surrounding child sexual abuse and exploitation through organising open national and community dialogues using all available channels.
“Promote and fulfil the rights of children with disabilities, fight discrimination and stigmatisation against them and ensure they have access to all services and buildings, Encourage the active participation and involvement of children in decision-making processes at the national and local levels, including through child-friendly digital technologies” she stated.
The UNICEF website also notes that “a survey on physical and humiliating punishment of children in The Gambia, conducted by Child Protection Alliance in 2014, reveals that 38 per cent of children were beaten and 57 per cent were subjected to other forms of humiliating punishment. Bullying is an emerging issue as 42 per cent of the children reported being victims”.
“The Network Against Gender-based Violence, an organization that has been working on establishing One-Stop Centers in the country, recorded 941 cases of sexual violence between 2014 and 2018, 88 per cent of whom were children”.