The Gambia is a multiparty democratic republic. In December President Adama Barrow won reelection with 53 percent of the vote. International and domestic election observers determined the elections to be free, fair, transparent, and peaceful, despite widespread but minor administrative problems. International and domestic observers considered the 2017 National Assembly elections to be mostly free and fair.
The Gambia Police Force maintains internal security and reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Gambia Armed Forces consist of four branches: the Gambia National Army, the Gambia Navy, the Republican National Guard, and the Gambia Air Force. The Gambia Armed Forces’ principal responsibilities include aiding civil authorities in emergencies and providing natural disaster relief. The chief of the defense staff administers the Gambia Armed Forces and reports through the minister of defense to the president as commander in chief. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government or on behalf of government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early, and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation and other harmful practices; trafficking in persons; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the law was rarely enforced; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.
The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise hold accountable some officials who committed abuses or engaged in corruption. Nevertheless, impunity and a lack of consistent enforcement continued to occur.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape without reference to gender and criminalizes domestic violence. The penalty for rape is life imprisonment. The maximum penalty for attempted rape is seven years’ imprisonment. Spousal and intimate partner rape, which are not illegal, was reportedly widespread, although there were no recent studies or reports; police officers generally considered it a domestic matter outside of their jurisdiction. Rape and domestic violence were widespread problems that often went unreported due to survivors’ fear of reprisal, unequal power relationships, stigma, discrimination, and pressure from family and friends not to report abuses. The penalty for domestic violence is two years’ imprisonment, a substantial monetary fine, or both.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Children, and Social Welfare operated a shelter and cooperated with UN agencies and civil society organizations to address sexual- and gender-based violence.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law bans FGM/C of girls and women; however, the practice had widespread and deeply rooted popular support. Authorities did not always enforce the law. Survivors and witnesses rarely reported abuses because they were uncomfortable implicating family or community members. According to UNICEF and NGOs, 76 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 had been subjected to FGM/C as of 2020. Authorities made no FGM/C arrests during the year.
NGOs, including The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, Wassu Gambia Kafo, Safe Hands for Girls, and Think Young Women, were at the forefront of combatting FGM/C in the country.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates a one-year mandatory prison sentence for abuses. Sexual harassment was prevalent but not commonly reported due to discrimination, social stigma, and unwillingness to challenge the offenders. The government did not enforce the law effectively.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Barriers that impeded access to sexual and reproductive health services included cultural taboos, limited formal education with high illiteracy rates, low wages, and poor infrastructure, particularly in more rural areas of the country. Access to both routine and emergency health care was limited due to lack of capacity in all sectors of the health-care field.
The government attempted to provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, but residents in rural areas had very limited access to basic health care. Emergency contraception was available as part of the clinical management of rape cases, but limited to urban areas, with inconsistent supply at pharmacies and medical centers.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the country’s maternal mortality rate in 2020 was 597 per 100,000 live births. The WHO identified hemorrhage, anemia, early pregnancy, and obstructed labor as the main causes of maternal mortality. FGM/C negatively impacted reproductive and maternal morbidity (see the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting subsection for additional information).
According to UN Population Fund data from 2020, 41 percent of married or in-union girls and women ages 15 to 49 made their own decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health, including decisions regarding their health care, the use of contraception, and whether to have sex. According to UNICEF, a skilled health-care professional attended 88 percent of births in 2020.
Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for equality of all persons, including with regard to race, color, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, and birth. The law prohibits discrimination in employment, access to credit, owning and managing a business, housing or education. Nevertheless, the law does not provide the same legal status and rights for women regarding adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, and inheritance of property. The government enforced the law effectively.
In addition to providing equality before the law and prohibiting discrimination, additional provisions in the law prohibit specific types of racial and ethnic discrimination. Political candidates are forbidden from stoking tribal or ethnic tensions. The government evenly and effectively administered these laws.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from a citizen parent. Due to lack of access, parents in rural areas typically do not register births, but this did not preclude their children from receiving public health and education services.
Education: The constitution and law mandate compulsory, tuition-free primary- and lower-secondary-level education. Families often must pay fees for books, uniforms, lunches, school fund contributions, and examination fees. An estimated 75 percent of primary school-age children enrolled in primary schools. Girls comprised approximately one-half of primary school students but only one-third of high school students.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: By law children younger than age 18 may not marry. According to UNICEF, however, 34.2 percent of girls younger than 18 were married, and 9.5 percent younger than 15. Although government campaigns in several areas of the country, particularly in remote villages, sought to create awareness of the law, there were no reports of the government enforcing it.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, or using children for commercial sexual exploitation, and practices related to child pornography. NGOs attributed difficulties in enforcement of the law to a culture of secrecy regarding intimate family matters and a penchant for resolution of problems outside of the formal legal system. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There was no known Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with disabilities cannot access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The constitution prohibits discrimination against or exploitation of persons with disabilities, although it does not stipulate the kinds of disabilities protected, particularly regarding access to health services, education, and employment. There are no legal provisions that require access to transportation, buildings, and information or communications for persons with disabilities.
There were three schools for students with visual, hearing, or learning disabilities. Students with physical disabilities may attend mainstream schools, but there were no programs or facilities to address specific needs. Children with disabilities attended school through secondary education at a lower rate than other children.
An NHRC report in August detailed access problems for persons with disabilities trying to register to vote. There were no sign language interpreters present and documentation was not available in braille, but commission observers saw registration officials assisting a blind woman. Many of the registration sites were not at ground level and did not have ramps for persons with crutches or wheelchairs. Persons with disabilities found it very difficult to vote in the December elections, although some were seen navigating crowds and uneven ground to do so.
Although there were no documented incidents of HIV-related stigma and discrimination in employment, housing, or access to education or health care, stigma and discrimination existed. Societal discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS and fear of rejection by partners and relatives sometimes hindered identification and treatment. The government response was unclear.
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults by punishing acts “against the order of nature” and acts of “gross indecency.” The law also punishes “aggravated homosexuality.” The government did not actively enforce these laws.
Citing more “pressing” priorities, the president in 2018 dismissed homosexuality as a nonissue in the country.
The law does not address discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) persons regarding essential goods and services such as housing, employment, and access to government services, including health care. There was strong societal discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons.