10 Facts About Child Labor in The Gambia
The Gambia is not only the smallest country in mainland Africa, but it also continues to be among the poorest. Today, 48 percent of its population of 2.1 million live below the poverty line. One of the many manifestations of the country’s high poverty rate is the prevalence of child labor. These 10 facts about child labor in The Gambia provide a deeper background on the issue.

10 Facts About Child Labor in The Gambia

  1. The Gambia has a young population. Approximately 63 percent of Gambians are under the age of 25, and the median age is 17. About 95 percent of child laborers work in the agriculture sector, but in the capital city, Banjul, it is common to see children under 14 begging, washing cars, selling food, selling newspapers and repairing bicycles. Many of these children are orphans or lack parental care, but others have parents who sent them to trade in the street. Even though 20 percent of children in The Gambia are employed today, this represents a significant improvement from 36 percent in 2013.

  2. Child labor deprives the population of higher education. Gambian law makes the first six years of primary school free and mandatory, and the primary school completion rate is at 70 percent. In 2017, the government participated in the READ (Results for Education Achievement and Development) project funded by the World Bank which improved the quality of basic education in Gambian schools. However, most child laborers between ages 5 and 14 both work and attend school, which hinders their learning experience. Many child workers drop out after primary school or never attend school at all. Many Gambians who have not participated in formal schooling think of it as a waste of time that could be better spent making money for the family’s survival.

  3. The legal working age of The Gambia is 16. For hazardous jobs, it is age 18. Yet, children often have to work to support their families’ income, and the government rarely conducts inspections. Boys in urban areas work as shoe-shiners or street-sweepers and some undertake more hazardous jobs, like hauling heavy objects, that could lead to future health problems. Girls commonly work in domestic service, or as street vendors selling fruit, water or candy. Both girls and boys in rural areas work on farms. Children between the ages of 14 and 16 commonly work in physical-labor industries like lumbering, sewing, brick-making or masonry, often for exhausting hours in unethical or unsafe conditions.

  4. Forced child marriage often translates into child labor. As of 2016, the legal age of marriage in The Gambia is 18. However, poverty incentivizes families to follow the cultural tradition of early marriage. Families sell about 30 percent of girls under 18 into marriage in exchange for livestock and other material goods that can help their families. About 9 percent become married before age 15. Child brides come from poor families in rural areas with little or no formal education, and they generally begin working in harsh conditions in industries such as agriculture.

  5. Child labor can lead to human trafficking. Child laborers in The Gambia are vulnerable to exploitation, including child prostitution, child pornography and sex tourism. Sexual exploitation in schools was once widespread but has significantly diminished thanks to the work of organizations like the National Agency Against Trafficking in Persons. But cases of teachers forcing into students, especially girls, into sexual acts in exchange for compensation still exist today.

  6. There has been a recent resurgence of female genital mutilation in The Gambia. FGM causes serious medical consequences for women and girls. Since females usually receive FGM before puberty, female child laborers can suffer even more dangerous effects. The Gambia’s government outlawed FGM in 2015. But with the return of democracy to the country, many are returning to this tradition of female circumcision that is still a significant part of Gambian society. The harmful practice is especially prevalent in rural regions, like Basse, where 96 percent of between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone FGM. Organizations such as UNICEF and 28 Too Many are working to eradicate FGM in the country.

  7. The Gambia is a popular destination for refugees and immigrants escaping conflict in neighboring countries like Senegal. This leads to a greater risk of unaccompanied children in the country, who are vulnerable to forced labor and other forms of abuse. Evidence shows that traffickers traffick children to and from adjacent countries for commercial or sexual exploitation.

  8. In 2016 and 2017, The Gambia’s government made efforts to address the problem of child labor by launching policies designed to target the “worst forms of child labor.” The government created agencies responsible for enforcing these laws relating to child labor, including the Child Protection Alliance, The Gambia Police Force Child Welfare Unit and the Department of Social Welfare. The Gambia Tourism Board and the Tourism Security Unit combat sexual exploitation of children by preventing unaccompanied children from entering tourist areas. The National Agency Against Trafficking in Persons investigates child trafficking cases. Neighborhood watch groups and child protection committees have formed to monitor urban areas and report cases of child labor to the police.

  9. The International Labor Organization, (ILO) has helped pass acts of legislation aimed at reducing child labor in The Gambia. Efforts include the Anti-Trafficking In Persons Act in 2007, the Children’s Act in 2005 and the Children’s Court Rules Act of 2010. In 2010, the ILO facilitated the Decent Work Country Programme for The Gambia, collaborating with the Government of The Gambia and its social partners. The program included training workshops that covered the rights of workers, social protection, and social dialogue, with the overall goal of implementing a system of decent work for expanding the economy and reducing poverty.

  10. UNICEF has been working closely with the Gambian government to eliminate child labor and other abuses of children’s rights. UNICEF aided the enactment of the Children’s Act legislation that stemmed originally from the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of a Child in 1990. In 2013, UNICEF supported the world’s first national child protection system mapping and assessment, which included introducing a juvenile justice training for police and making children’s courts more child-friendly. UNICEF’s other work in The Gambia includes an FGM Plan of Action, a Gender-Based Violence Plan of Action and a communication strategy program to combat wife-beating.

The above 10 facts about child labor in The Gambia show both the progress made and the need for more action to solve this complex problem. With the help of foreign aid and the aforementioned nonprofit organizations, the Gambian government will continue to search for solutions to ending child labor.

Sarah Newgarden
Photo: Flickr

 Abandoned Infants in PakistanAt just over a month old, Fatima was given away on live television. Fatima is just one of many children orphaned in Pakistan after being abandoned in trashcans and dirty alleyways. Placed in piles of rubbish, these infants are dying by the hundreds every year. On his show, “Amaan Ramzan,” Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain famously gives away cars and other luxury items to families in need. However, the show made world news after giving Fatima and another baby girl to a family who are unable to have children. As he explains, “These children are not a part of garbage, are not a part of trash, so we took these children from the garbage, from the trash and delivered them to the needy people, the needy parents.” Fatima’s new mother, Tanzeem Ud Din, said that she hopes the show will help encourage others to adopt children in need.

While the cause of the trend to abandon children remains unknown, many have their theories. One father who adopted two of these afflicted children and wishes to remain unnamed said, “it could be people not wanting children, women on their own or a couple that did not go through with an abortion.” He says religious belief plays a great roll in this. Many perish in the litter before they can be rescued. The lucky ones make it to orphanages dedicated to helping abandoned children. The father described his visit to the orphanage he adopted from sites of children with fear on their faces, crying because they had been dropped off two days ago when their mother died and their father left to remarry. Many of the children here live without a birth certificate or any paperwork for identification.

While the situation is horrific, many are working on solutions that will help save these children’s lives.

  1. Improvements to legislation: According to Director of the Imkaan Welfare Organization, Tahera Hasan, “Solutions don’t lie with philanthropic institutions and they never will. We are literally a drop in the ocean as far as the larger landscape is concerned.” In 2016, the Upper House of Parliament passed its first-ever bill to help abandoned children. Un-attended Orphans Rehabilitation and Welfare Act was written to protect the rights of orphaned children and ensure housing, education and healthcare.
  2. Decreasing poverty rates throughout Pakistan: According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2015–2016, 39 percent of the population lives in poverty. In contrast, the country has a total fertility rate of 2.55, according to the CIA Factbook, putting it at number 76 for world fertility rates. As a comparison, the United States is 142 on this list. Ahsan Iqbal, Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms says poverty reduction is one of the main objectives of Pakistan’s Vision 2025.
  3. Improving adoption services: According to Hasan, “There is no formal structure for adoption in place here, it is not recognized by the state.” Hansan is dedicated to the support of families adopting in Pakistan with the Imkaan Welfare Organization. Adoption remains mainly unregulated in Pakistan, with no paperwork for these children.

Social worker Ramzan Chippa said, “Parents who are adopting babies want healthy babies.” However, many orphaned children are described as severely mentally ill, one father even noticing a boy tied up in his orphanage to prevent him from taking bites out of his own arm. As a result, organizations such as Imkaan Welfare Organization are necessary to help these children become adoptable and find homes to be placed in.

The unnamed adoptive father referred to the child crisis in Pakistan as “unfinished business.” For countless children abandoned in dumpsters and litter, that is what their life is. Until Pakistan can adequately care for the thousands of unwanted children born every year, their existence will seem unfinished as they are homeless, purposeless and without a family.

Maura Byrne
Photo: Flickr