By Arret Jatta
Civil Society Organisation Fantanka trained Prison Service Providers and Social Workers of the Gambia Prison Services during a three-day training which concluded on 16th November 2022. The training which is supported by UNICEF was held at Paradise Suite Hotel in Senegambia. Fantanka is a Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) focused CSO involved in the implementation of the Recommendations of the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC).
Security Sector Reform (SSR) is the process of reform which will include and not limited to legal reforms to upgrade many of the outdated legal provisions for Security Institutions, the implementation of the TRRC Recommendations submitted to the Government, and the required structural reform and rightsizing amongst others.
Joseph B Mendy a prison officer who represented the Director General of The Gambia Prison Service stated that The Gambia Prison Service was built in the colonial days. He highlighted that the reason they built the prison was to deter people from committing crimes, to punish people for the crimes committed and for incapacitation.
He added that the training marks an important milestone in GPS’s plan to develop the capacity of its staff and is also in line with the security sector reform. “This is very timely and the knowledge gained will be put into practice”. According to Mr Mendy “people’s age should be verified before they decide where to put them especially juvenile offenders because sometimes, the officers just assume the offender’s age which is not proper”.
The TRRC is a Commission enacted by the Government of President Adama Barrow in 2017 through an act of Parliament to investigate the human rights violations of the Regime of former President Yahaya Jammeh from 1994 to 2016. Volume 14 of the TRRC Report focuses on Gambia Prison Services and recommends a series of reforms to improve the Prison Services towards international human rights standards.
Diana Kimboko The Representative of UNICEF highlighted that they have been supporting the improvement of access to justice in the Gambia for the past few years including the prison, the judiciary and CSOs like Fantanka who work to support the system.
Ms Kimboko added that they really look forward to the outcome of this training which She believes will be very helpful for the mental health of Children “but also to make the justice system more friendly I know going through the justice system is quite even for an adult but it’s more challenging for a child”.
Fantanka specializes in raising awareness of Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) in The Gambia, particularly among young people. The organisation promotes abstinence as well as the use of contraceptives for the prevention of unplanned pregnancies, STIs, unsafe abortions and other adverse SRH outcomes. Consequently, Fantanka’s goal is to support young people to make the right SRH choices as well as avoid risky sexual activities. Fantanka also provides psychosocial support for victims of sexually related issues, which is currently a challenge in the country.
Mr Mendy went on to say that during the TRRC they heard some testimonies on how uniformed men treat the civilians which is not in line with international minimum standards. He added that “our relationship with the civilians should be cordial. We put on this uniform today but tomorrow if I resign from the prison I’m still coming back to the civilian population”.