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.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country’s territory or through either parent; however, not all parents registered births. To access care at public health centers, authorities required children to have a clinic card, which was available without birth registration. Authorities often required birth certificates for children to enroll in school, and parents could easily obtain them.
Education: The constitution and law mandate compulsory, tuition-free primary education between the ages of six and 12. In 2014 the government announced plans to make school tuition free for all students in upper basic schools by 2014-15 and for senior secondary schools in 2015-16, with external grant assistance from the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education. Authorities implemented both changes by September 2015. Under the tuition-free primary education plan, however, families often still have to pay fees for books, uniforms, lunch, school fund contributions, and examination fees.
In 2015 an estimated 75 percent of primary school-age children enrolled in primary schools. Islamic schools (madrassahs) enrolled another 15 percent. Girls constituted approximately half of primary school students and a third of high school students. The enrollment of girls was lower in rural areas, where poverty and cultural factors often led parents to decide against sending daughters to school.
Child Abuse: There were occasional reported cases of child abuse. Authorities generally enforced the law when cases of child abuse or mistreatment came to their attention and imposed criminal penalties in serious cases.
The penalty for rape is life imprisonment. The penalty for both “defilement” and “having carnal knowledge” of a minor child is 14 years’ imprisonment.
In January 2015 the High Court sentenced Mama Mbaye to seven years’ imprisonment with hard labor for his attempted rape of a four-year-old girl. The offense took place in 2013 in Brufut village, West Coast Region.
In 2014 police in Upper River Region arrested and detained a 35-year-old man, known by the initials “S. C.,” for allegedly raping a 10-year-old girl. The accused person was remanded at Janjanbureh Prison, and the case was pending before the High Court in Basse at year’s end.
Early and Forced Marriage: Carnal knowledge with a girl under the age of 16 is a felony except within marriage, which can occur as early as age 12. The constitution states, “marriage shall be based on the free and full consent of the intended parties,” although in many villages, girls reportedly were forced to marry at a young age. On May 31, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare issued a press release urging the public to participate in a nationwide “End Child Marriage Campaign,” which commenced on June 7. The campaign was intended to create awareness and advocacy on issues related to early child marriages and support national policy action on the protection of human rights, especially addressing violence against girls and women. The campaign also sought to support prosecution of perpetrators of early child marriages. On July 21, deputies at the National Assembly enacted and passed into law the Children’s (Amendment) Act 2016 to criminalize child marriage. The newly enacted law provides that any person who contravenes the law is liable for conviction and imprisonment not exceeding 20 years, without the option of a fine. The Children’s (Amendment) Act 2016 defined a child as “a person who has not attained maturity and is under the age of 18 years,” and described child marriage as “a marriage contracted between a child and an adult or between a child and another child.”
According to UNICEF’s 2010 multiple indicator report, 8.6 percent of women married before they were 15 years old, while 46.5 percent married before the age of 18. The government worked in conjunction with NGO Tostan and UNICEF on a joint community empowerment program seeking the abandonment of early and forced marriage.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): This information is provided in the women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for 14 years’ imprisonment for commercial sexual exploitation of children and five years for involvement in child pornography. The constitution provides that children under age 16 be protected from economic exploitation and hazardous employment harmful to their health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral, or social development. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18 years. Local NGOs believed criminals exploited children, who were often seeking to support their families, in prostitution in some brothels and that tourists staying in remote guesthouses and motels were involved in the sexual exploitation of children. Authorities instructed security officers in the tourism development area to turn away all minors who approached the main resort areas without an acceptable reason. NGOs reported difficulties in moving reports of sexual exploitation of children from communities to police, and from police to the courts, and in both the communities and the courts. NGOs largely blamed many of the difficulties on a national culture of secrecy with regard to intimate family issues and a penchant for resolution outside of the formal system.
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 report on compliance at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.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 www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution prohibits discrimination against or exploitation of persons with disabilities, although it does not expressly reference the kinds of disabilities protected, particularly as regards access to health services, education, and employment (see section 7.d.). Authorities effectively enforced these provisions. There is no explicit legal guarantee of access to air travel and other transportation, nor any requirement to provide for access to buildings for persons with disabilities. Very few public buildings in the country were accessible to them. The laws do not explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. No laws or programs stipulate persons with disabilities should have access to information or communications. The law requires judicial proceedings involving a person with disabilities take into account the disabilities.
Persons with severe disabilities experienced discrimination and subsisted primarily through private charity. Persons with less severe disabilities encountered less discrimination, including in employment for which they were physically and mentally capable.
The Department of Social Welfare of the Ministry of Health is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and worked with the Gambia Organization for the Visually Impaired and the School for the Deaf and Blind to help educate children with disabilities and to develop relevant skills. Most children with disabilities, however, did not attend school. The department also worked with international donors to supply wheelchairs to some persons with disabilities. Several NGOs sought to improve awareness of the rights of persons with disabilities and encouraged their participation in sports and other physical activities. The NHRU, a unit of the Office of the Ombudsman, sought to promote the rights of women with disabilities. Persons with disabilities received priority access to polling booths on election days.
During the year there were reports the government did not effectively protect the civil, political, and economic rights of indigenous people. President Jammeh’s reported inflammatory remarks in a June campaign rally aimed at the large Mandinka ethnic community (see Section 3 above) provoked a strong response from the UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide. On June 10, he stated that such “vitriolic rhetoric” had historically been “both a warning sign and a powerful trigger for atrocity crimes.”
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
In 2014 the president signed into law an amendment to the criminal code making “aggravated homosexuality” a crime punishable by life imprisonment. The bill defines “aggravated homosexuality” to include serial offenders or persons with a previous conviction for homosexual activity, persons having same-sex relations with someone under the age of 18 or with members of other vulnerable groups, or a person with HIV having same-sex relations.
Prior to this amendment, the law established prison terms ranging from five to 14 years for any man who commits in public or private “any act of gross indecency,” engages a male sex worker, or has actual sexual contact with another man. There was no similar law applicable to women. Antidiscrimination laws do not protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) individuals.
In 2014 the NIA arrested three persons on suspicion of homosexual activities, following a security operation targeting persons suspected of being involved in illegal activity. The men–Alieu Sarr, Momarr Sowe, and M. L. Bittaye–appeared before a magistrate in Banjul in 2014. The group was the first authorities tried under the “aggravated homosexuality” amendment. Authorities later transferred the case to the High Court, and in July 2015 the court acquitted Sarr and Sowe. They thereafter left the country. The trial of the third accused, M. L. Bittaye, was in progress at year’s end. On April 27, defense counsel Borry Touray filed and submitted a “no case to answer” plea to the High Court, on the ground the state failed to produce any witness to testify against the accused. The trial judge ordered the state to respond to the “no case to answer” submission. As of year’s end, this case remained pending before the court.
There were reports of LGBTI citizens fleeing to neighboring countries due to fear of arrest.
There was strong societal discrimination against LGBTI individuals. There were no LGBTI organizations in the country.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Societal discrimination against persons infected with HIV/AIDS hindered identification and treatment of persons with the disease and resulted in their rejection by partners and relatives when their condition became known. The government took a multisectoral approach to fighting HIV/AIDS through its national strategic plan, which provided for care, treatment, and support for persons with or affected by HIV/AIDS. The plan, enacted in 2015, also included HIV-prevention programs for high-risk populations. The Global Fund maintains a 739 million dalasi ($16.8 million) HIV/AIDs program for the country for the period from July 2015 to December 2017. The National AIDs Secretariat (NAS), a government institution, is expected to implement the curative aspect of the program, and Action Aid The Gambia (AATG), an international NGO, is expected to execute the preventive part of the program. There were no reports on HIV-related stigma and discrimination in employment, housing, or access to education or health care.