Since the passing of the Children’s Act 2005, a lot more work is still needed to ensure all Gambian youth benefit form their rights as enshrined in the Act. The paths that Gambian adolescents face are as varied as their backgrounds and unfortunately economic status and gender plays a great determining factor.
Those that have the economic and motivational backing 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 don't pursue university after completion of secondary school or discontinues after completion of primary school may attend vocational schools in fields such as health care and computer literacy, while 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 limited options, often following family work in farming and livestock.
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 48 per cent of girls marry before age 18.
Early marriage imposes an adult lifestyle unto girls, of which many of them are not prepared for, both mentally and physically. Child 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 miss out on education and perform heavy amounts of domestic work.
Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs. Some ethnic groups perform FGM/C as a girl’s right of passage. In total, about 80 per cent of girls in The Gambia had experienced some form of FGM/C.
UNICEF works with NGO, Tostan Gambia 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 adolescents. The educational project educated youth on HIV/AIDS as well as issues and realities surrounding the virus to empower both male and female adolescents. Youth learn to make proper decisions in life especially when it comes to safe sex, abstinence. The programme works to cancel ignorance and stigmas towards HIV/AIDS.