Although the country has the Children’s Act of 2005, a lot of work is still required to ensure that all Gambian adolescents benefit from their rights as enshrined in the Act. The challenges that adolescents face in the Gambia are as varied as their backgrounds, and their situation is often exacerbated by their economic status and gender violence and discrimination.
Adolescents who have the economic and motivational backing often complete secondary school and attend university. The ratio of girls’ to boys’ attendance of secondary school does not yet match that of primary school enrolment. Only 87 girls out of every 100 boys attend secondary school – that indicates a 13 per cent gap in gender parity.
Adolescents, who do not pursue university after completion of secondary school or who only have primary education may attend vocational schools in fields such as health care and computer literacy. On the other hand, adolescents with little formal education follow vocational paths in the traditional industry such as tailoring and fishery. Those who never attended school find themselves with very limited options, often following family work in farming and livestock rearing.
Traditional Practices Harmful to Women and Girls
Although it is more common in rural areas than urban, early marriage is a harsh reality for many girls under the age of 18 in The Gambia. About 46.5 per cent of girls marry before age 18 (MICS 2010).
Early marriage imposes an adult lifestyle unto adolescent girls, for which many are not prepared, both mentally and physically. Early marriage compromises a girl’s health, often resulting in early pregnancy which can lead to reproductive health complications, isolation, and sometimes death. The majority of married girls end up being “children raising children”. They not only miss out on education, but also face heavy amounts of domestic work.
Girls and women also contend with female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), which is the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or injury to the female genital organs. Some ethnic groups perform FGM/C as a girl’s rite of passage. In total, 76.3 (MICS 2010) per cent of girls in The Gambia had experienced some form of FGM/C.
UNICEF works with the non-governmental organization, Tostan, to end harmful traditional practices such as early marriage, child pregnancy, and FGM/C through a holistic human rights approach using informal education.
With the government and NGO partners, UNICEF supports a Life Skills programme, targeting both male and female adolescents with empowering information on HIV/AIDS as well as issues and realities surrounding the virus. Adolescents learn to make proper decisions in life especially when it comes to safe sex and abstinence. In addition, the programme works to cancel ignorance and stigmas towards HIV/AIDS.