Rape and Domestic Violence: The penalty for rape is life imprisonment; however, rape, including spousal rape, was a widespread problem. The maximum penalty for attempted rape is 10 years’ imprisonment without an option of a fine. NGOs involved in advocating against rape and abuse of women suggested that prosecutors often failed to prosecute rape cases aggressively. For example, on September 27, the Daily Observer reported police in Upper River Region arrested and detained two boys for allegedly “gang-raping an underage girl.” On October 17, Magistrate Hilary Abeke of Kanifing Magistrate Court acquitted and discharged Babucarr Bah on grounds the evidence of the prosecutors was contradictory and doubtful. Bah was standing trial on five charges, ranging from attempted rape, unlawful detention, kidnapping and abduction, and sexual exploitation of a child. Authorities prosecuted at least six rape cases reported to police in 2015; most prosecutions resulted in conviction. The law against spousal rape was difficult to enforce effectively, as many did not consider spousal rape a crime and failed to report it. Police generally considered spousal rape to be a domestic issue outside their jurisdiction.
The law prohibits any form of violence against women, and stipulates a fine of 50,000 dalasi ($1,140) or imprisonment not exceeding two years, or both. Victims underreported domestic violence due to social stigma, and victims settled most cases through family mediation. No statistics were available on abusers prosecuted or convicted. The government developed a national plan of action on gender-based violence (GBV) for 2013-17, with the goal of reducing the percentage of women who experience GBV from 75 percent to 30 percent. The Gambia 2013 Demographic and Health Survey, published in 2015, stated the percentage of women who reported having experienced GBV fell to 41 percent during 2013.
The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP), one of the leading women’s rights NGOs in the country, included GBV in its training modules for combating FGM/C. Another group, the Female Lawyers’ Association of The Gambia, educated women on their rights and represented them, often without charge, in domestic violence cases.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): In December 2015 the National Assembly passed the Women’s Amendment Act of 2015, which banned FGM/C. The new law stipulates imprisonment for not more than three years, a fine of 50,000 dalasi ($1,140), or both, for anyone found to have circumcised a female child. It also states a life sentence may be applicable in instances where the practice results in death of the victim. Accomplices who are aware of the practice but fail to report it may be liable for a fine of 10,000 dalasi ($227). On March 10, Banjul Magistrate Court charged two women with four criminal offenses, after a five-month-old girl child died of FGM/C in the Kiang West, Sankandi village, Lower River Region (LRR). The accused, Sunkaru Darboe, and Saffiatou Darboe, denied the allegations. On March 21, the Banjul Magistrate Court transferred the case to Mansankonko High Court in LRR for lack of jurisdiction. The case remained pending at year’s end.
In a 2005-06 survey, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found almost 80 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 19 in the country had undergone FGM/C, and seven of the nine major ethnic groups practiced FGM/C on girls from shortly after birth until age 16. Type 2, the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora, was the most prevalent. FGM/C was less frequent among educated and urban groups. Some religious leaders, such as the State House imam, Muhammed Lamin Touray, publicly defended the practice.
There were reports of health complications, including deaths, associated with FGM/C; however, no accurate statistics were available. Several NGOs including GAMCOTRAP conducted public education programs to discourage the practice and spoke out against FGM/C in the media. In 2015 several district chiefs, ward councilors, members of councils of elders, religious leaders, female leaders, and female circumcisers attended GAMCOTRAP seminars on the harmful effects of FGM/C. On February 3, GAMCOTRAP celebrated “International Zero Tolerance to FGM Day” to strengthen awareness-raising and advocacy activities, and to spread information on the universal ban on FGM and its implications at the community and national levels.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides for a one-year mandatory prison sentence for offenders. According to GAMCOTRAP, although citizens considered sexual harassment a common problem in workplaces and schools, few reported it to police.
Reproductive Rights: The government did not interfere with the basic right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. According to the Health Ministry, the maternal mortality rate in 2015 was 360 per 100,000 live births. According to the World Health Organization, hemorrhage, anemia, early pregnancy, and obstructed labor were the main causes of maternal mortality. World Development Indicators published by the World Bank in September 2015 stated the contraceptive prevalence rate for girls and women ages 15 to 49 was 13.3 percent.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for equality for women in the political, economic, and social spheres. The law provides equal rights to men and women, and prohibits discrimination on grounds of gender. The constitution, however, states its provisions against discrimination do not apply to adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, or devolution of property on death, and women experienced a wide range of discrimination in matrimonial, property, and inheritance rights.
Employment in the formal sector was open to women at the same salary rates as men, and no statutory discrimination existed in other kinds of employment (see section 7.d.), access to credit, owning and managing a business, or in housing or education. Societal discrimination, however, lingered in the above areas, and businesses generally employed women in such pursuits as food vending and subsistence farming.
Sharia applies in marriage, divorce, and inheritance cases for Muslims, who make up more than 90 percent of the population. Women can have access to land only through marriage and can only borrow, not inherit, land from their husbands. Women normally received a lower proportion of other assets distributed through inheritance than men did. The respective churches and the Office of the Attorney General settled civil marriage and divorce issues affecting Christians.
Families often arranged marriages. Some ethnic groups practiced polygyny. Women in polygynous unions had problems with property and other rights arising from their marriages. They had the option to divorce but no legal right to disapprove or receive advance notification of subsequent marriages by their husbands. The Women’s Bureau under the Office of the Vice President oversees programs to provide for the legal rights of women. Active women’s rights groups existed.