Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
By law the Gambia Police Force must grant a permit for all public meetings and gatherings. The inspector general of police has the authority to approve or disapprove permits and is required to communicate his decision to the requester in writing. Requests are generally approved unless there is concern regarding the peaceful nature of a proposed protest. Security forces lacked the capability to employ effective, nonviolent crowd-control techniques.
On July 24, residents of Brikama gathered to protest poor delivery of community services by the Brikama Area Council despite having been denied a legally required permit from police. In the days leading to the protest, police denied a permit to hold the protest on “public safety” grounds and attempted to dissuade residents from holding it. According to media reports, the protest began with a “few dozen” individuals gathered near the Brikama main market that police attempted to disperse by firing tear gas rounds. In response the number of protesters increased, and protesters began throwing stones at police and started a fire in the market. Several protesters and police were injured. Several protesters were arrested but released on bail; all charges were subsequently dropped. The ECOWAS military intervention unit was eventually deployed to protect key infrastructure in Brikama from further attacks.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The country held a presidential election in 2016, in which Adama Barrow, the candidate of an opposition coalition, defeated Yahya Jammeh, the incumbent. The election was largely peaceful and considered credible. The defeated incumbent initially accepted the results, before declaring them “null and void,” alleging irregularities in the process. This led to a six-week political impasse before Jammeh dropped his claims and went into exile in Equatorial Guinea, bowing to regional and international pressure and the threat of military force from the ECOWAS, the member states of which had massed soldiers on the Gambia’s borders.
The country also held legislative elections in 2017 that were described by domestic and international observers as mostly free and fair. Mama Kandeh, leader of the Gambia Democratic Congress, rejected the results, claiming to have evidence that would expose the unfairness of the entire process. Kandeh, however, did not provide any evidence to substantiate his claim.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Evidence suggested cultural constraints limited women’s participation in the political process; men greatly outnumbered women in the cabinet and parliament.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
Several domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Among these were the #Jammeh2Justice campaign to have the Ghanaian and Gambian governments try former president Jammeh for the 2005 killings of irregular migrants–among them 44 Ghanaians–and the Victims Center that supports the TRRC and assists victims of Jammeh-era human rights abuses.
Government officials were usually cooperative and responsive to issues raised by human rights groups during the year. Despite the Barrow administration’s 2017 pledge to create a more conducive environment for NGOs, the law continues to require NGOs to register with the National Advisory Council. It provides the council with the authority to deny, suspend, or cancel the right of any NGO (including international NGOs) to operate in the country. The council did not take actions against any NGO during the year.
In 2017 the TRRC was established to address human rights abuses during the 22-year rule (1994-2016) of former president Jammeh. During the year the TRRC conducted hearings at which more than 100 witnesses testified to multiple instances of human rights abuses by the Jammeh government, including killings, torture, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, and forced disappearances. Witnesses included members of the Junglers hit squad who admitted to committing gross human rights abuses.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The constitution and law provide for equality of all persons; no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner because of race, color, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status. Legal provisions against discrimination do not apply to adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, and inheritance of property. The law prohibits discrimination in employment, access to credit, owning and managing a business, or in housing or education.
There were no reports the government failed to enforce the law.
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes the rape of individuals–without reference to gender–and domestic violence. The penalty for conviction of rape is life imprisonment. The maximum penalty for conviction of attempted rape is seven years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape was widespread and not illegal; police generally considered it a domestic issue outside its jurisdiction. Rape and domestic violence were widespread problems that often went unreported due to victims’ fear of reprisal, unequal power relationships, stigma, discrimination, and pressure from family and friends not to report abuses. Conviction of domestic violence carries a fine of up to 50,000 dalasi (D) ($998), two years’ imprisonment, or both.
On July 4, women marched under the social media hashtag #IamToufah as part of the country’s #MeToo movement to demonstrate solidarity with Fatou Toufah Jallow–a young woman who went public with sexual assault and rape allegations against former president Jammeh–and to raise public awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence in Gambian society. In October Jallow was among several women who testified at the TRRC regarding Jammeh-era sexual abuse and gender-based violence.
FGM/C is a deeply rooted practice in society. FGM/C cases are very seldom reported, either because individuals do not agree with the law or because they are uncomfortable reporting family or community members engaged in the practice to authorities. According to NGOs 76 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 had been subjected to FGM/C. 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.
Following the departure of former president Jammeh, rumors circulated the law banning FGM/C would no longer be enforced. Authorities responded the ban remained in effect; however, no FGM/C arrests were made during the year. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and conviction provides for a one-year mandatory prison sentence. Sexual harassment was prevalent but not commonly reported due to discrimination, social stigma, and unwillingness to challenge the offenders due to unequal power relationships and fear of reprisal.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for equality of all persons, including with regard to race, color, 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, or in housing or education. Nevertheless, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women regarding adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, and inheritance of property. During the year there were no reports the government failed to enforce the law effectively.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the country’s territory or through either parent. Not all parents registered births, but this did not preclude their children from receiving public health services. Birth certificates were easily obtained in most cases. For additional information, see Appendix C.
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 constituted approximately one half of primary school students but only one-third of high school students.
Early and Forced Marriage: By law children younger than age 18 may not marry; however, 34.2 percent of girls younger than 18 were married, and 9.5 percent younger than 15 were married. Government sensitization campaigns in several areas of the country, particularly in remote villages, sought to create awareness of the act. For additional information, see Appendix C.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For information, 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.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution prohibits discrimination against or exploitation of persons with disabilities, although it does not stipulate the kinds of disabilities protected, particularly as regards access to health services, education, and employment. There is no explicit legal provision that requires access to transportation, nor any requirement to provide for access to buildings for persons with disabilities. No law or program provides for persons with disabilities to have access to information or communications.
There are three separate schools for students with visual, hearing, or learning disabilities respectively. Other students with disabilities may attend mainstream schools, but there are no programs or facilities to address special needs. Children with disabilities attended school through secondary education at a lower rate than other children.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Citing more pressing priorities, the president dismissed homosexuality as a nonissue in the country. In July 2018 the country’s delegation to the UN Human Rights Council stated the government did not plan to reverse or change the law. The law, however, was not enforced.
There was strong societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Although there were no reports to authorities of HIV-related stigma and discrimination in employment, housing, or access to education or health care, it existed. Societal discrimination against persons infected with HIV/AIDS and fear of rejection by partners and relatives sometimes hindered identification and treatment of persons with the disease. The government’s multisectoral national strategic plan provides for care, treatment, and support for persons with or affected by HIV/AIDS. The plan includes HIV-prevention programs for high-risk populations.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides that workers, except for civil servants, domestic workers, and certain other categories of workers excluded from the protection of the law, are free to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. A broad range of essential service employees, including in the military, police, health, ambulance, prison, water and electricity services, and radio and telecommunication services sectors, are prohibited from forming unions or going on strike. Additionally, the law authorizes the minister responsible for labor matters to exclude any other category of workers from the protection of the law. Unions must register to be recognized. The law requires a minimum membership of 50 workers for the registration of a trade union, a threshold few workplaces could meet. The law also provides that the registrar of unions may examine without cause the financial accounts of workers’ associations.
The law restricts the right to strike by requiring unions to give the commissioner of labor written notice 14 days before beginning an industrial action (28 days for actions involving essential services). Police and military personnel had access to a complaints unit, and civil servants could take their complaints to the public service commission or the government’s personnel management office. An employer may apply for a court injunction to prohibit industrial action deemed to be in pursuit of a political objective. The court also may forbid action judged to be in breach of a collectively agreed procedure for settlement of industrial disputes. The law prohibits retribution against strikers who comply with the law regulating strikes. Employers may not fire or discriminate against members of registered unions for engaging in legal union activities, and the law provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law also sets minimum contract standards for hiring, training, and terms of employment and provides that contracts may not prohibit union membership.
The government did not effectively enforce the law and there were persistent abuses of freedom of association. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties did not serve as a deterrent, because they were rarely applied.
Although trade unions were small and fragmented, collective bargaining took place. Union members were able to negotiate without government interference; however, they lacked experience, organization, and professionalism and often turned to the government for assistance in negotiations. The Department of Labor registered most collective agreements, which remained valid for three years and were renewable.
There were no reports of violations of collective bargaining rights or of employers refusing to bargain, bargaining with unions not chosen by workers, or using other hiring practices to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including that of children, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law sets forth general employment protections, including contractual rights, freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, and disciplinary procedures in the workplace, among other important labor regulations. Domestic laborers were not protected under the national labor law, however, which rendered them vulnerable to exploitation. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations.
According to the International Labor Organization, the right of public service employees to quit is unclear, making it possible they could be forced to work. In addition military service members may be compelled to undertake work that is not purely military in character, including in agriculture, engineering, health, and education. Women and children were subjected to human trafficking primarily for domestic labor and commercial sexual exploitation.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. The constitution prohibits economic exploitation of children younger than age 16, and regulations prohibit children younger than 18 from engaging in exploitive labor or hazardous employment, including mining and quarrying, going to sea, carrying heavy loads, operating heavy machinery, and working in establishments serving alcohol. The law sets the minimum age at 16 for light work and at 12 for apprenticeship in the informal sector.
The penalties for conviction of child labor law violations are not sufficient to deter violations. The Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and conventions on the worst forms of child labor, but it did not effectively do so. The government took no action to prevent or combat child labor during the year. The labor commissioner registered employee labor cards, which include a person’s age; the law authorizes the commissioner to enforce child labor laws. Enforcement inspections rarely took place and when they took place, no one was prosecuted.
Child labor in the informal sector was largely unregulated. Rising school fees combined with stagnating incomes prevented some families from sending their children to school, contributing to the vulnerability of children to child labor. Additionally, many children completed nine years of compulsory schooling at age 14, rendering them vulnerable to child labor. In urban areas some children worked as street vendors, domestic laborers, or taxi and bus assistants. There were a few instances of children begging on the streets, including cases of forced begging. Children between ages 14 and 17 also worked in carpentry, masonry, plumbing, tailoring, and auto repair. Children in rural areas worked on family farms.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, color, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, disability, sex, property, birth, or other status. The law defines the criteria that prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, and the government effectively enforced the law in the formal sector. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
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; however, societal discrimination lingered, and women generally worked in such low-wage pursuits as food vending and subsistence farming. The law also prohibits discrimination in private companies certified by the Department of Labor.
There were no official reports of discriminatory practices with respect to employment or occupation. The International Labor Organization reported the government generally supported elimination of employment discrimination.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Collective bargaining, arbitration, or agreements reached between unions and management determined union members’ wages, which generally exceeded legal minimums. The minimum wage was less than the World Bank’s international poverty line, although it was above the government’s national poverty baseline. Employers paid most workers above the minimum wage. Most citizens did not live on a single worker’s earnings and shared resources within extended families. The Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage; however, the government did not effectively enforce the law and penalties for violations were insufficient and rarely enforced. Most workers were employed in the private sector or were self-employed, often in agriculture where labor laws were not enforced.
The basic legal workweek is 48 hours within a period not to exceed six consecutive days. The government’s workweek consists of four eight-hour workdays Monday through Thursday and a four-hour workday on Friday. The private sector typically operates from Monday through Saturday. Regulations mandate a 30-minute lunch break. Regulations entitle government employees to one month of paid annual leave after one year of service. The government does not pay most government employees overtime compensation. Government workers holding temporary positions and private-sector workers, however, receive overtime pay calculated at time and a half per hour. There is no exception for foreign or migrant workers.
The law specifies appropriate safety equipment an employer must provide to employees working in designated occupations. The law also authorizes the Department of Labor to regulate factory health and safety, accident prevention, and dangerous trades and to appoint inspectors to provide for compliance with occupational safety and health (OSH) standards. Workers may demand protective equipment and clothing for hazardous workplaces and have recourse to the Labor Department for violations of OSH standards. The law protects foreign workers employed by the government; however, it provides protection for privately employed foreigners only if they have a valid work permit.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were seldom applied and did not deter violations particularly in the construction sector. Court remedies were lengthy, expensive, and generally ineffective. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Wage and safety standards were not enforced in the informal sector, which included most workers.