Gambia criminalises female genital mutilation

December 30, 2015, 11:52am

AFP on News24
Photo: iStock

Banjul - Gambian lawmakers have passed a bill criminalising female circumcision and introducing prison terms of up to three years for anyone flouting the ban.

The National Assembly voted by a large majority to write the ban into the criminal code, a month after President Yahya Jammeh branded the practice outdated and ordered its immediate cessation.

Vice President Isatou Njie Saidy told legislators the new law would "enforce the constitutional rights of women and girls not to be subjected to practices that are harmful to their health and well-being".

Female genital mutilation, or FGM, remains highly common in the Gambia, along with a number of other African countries and parts of the Middle East.

The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 125 million women worldwide have undergone the practice, which involves cutting off the labia and clitoris, often when girls are young.

It can lead to serious health problems, including infections, bleeding, infertility and complications in childbirth and impairs sexual pleasure.

Jammeh declared in November that the practice was not required by Islam - the religion of around 95% of the country's 1.8 million population - and that it should be banished to the past, according to a government spokesperson.

Jammeh earlier this month declared the Gambia an Islamic state.

A former British colony nestled within Senegal, the country is one of the poorest in the world and has been ruled with an iron fist by Jammeh since he seized power in a coup in 1994.