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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

FGM and educationAccording to the World Health Organization, female genital mutilation (FGM) refers to any procedure that involves “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

There is no health benefit for girls or women and possible medical complications include severe bleeding, cysts, infections, difficulty urinating and issues with childbirth. The practice is especially dangerous because it is rarely performed in a medical setting.

More than 200 million girls and women from 30 different countries have been cut, and UNICEF estimates that 30 million more could be cut in the next 10 years if current trends do not change. The practice is concentrated in countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, with a 90 percent prevalence rate in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Egypt.

 

Why is it difficult to stop?

Female genital mutilation is a deeply entrenched cultural practice that is often considered a coming-of-age rite of passage and is therefore performed near the start of puberty. It is believed to make girls cleaner, to improve marriage prospects, to preserve virginity and also has religious undertones. Due to the depth of its cultural significance, it is very difficult to convince practitioners – typically midwives or other locals – to cease the practice.

Those who perform the procedure also have another reason to continue – it is their livelihood. Unless NGOs and anti-FGM organizations can provide an alternative way for them to make a living, practitioners have little incentive to stop.

 

What is the link between FGM and education?

Regarding FGM and education, program advisor for USAID Somalia MaryBeth McKeever said that advocacy should be focused on community education communities. “These communities are composed of parents, students, teachers, school administrators and traditional/religious leaders and each school has one. The CECs have been instrumental in increasing girls’ education and can help girls and women make informed choices on decisions that will impact their health, education and lives,” McKeever said.

The connection between FGM and education is twofold: education and awareness about the practice and its risks and general educational attainment. Teaching young girls and women about the dangers of FGM is a powerful tool in changing public opinion and reversing the trend. However, the importance of overall education may seem less clear.

The International Center for Research on Women published a report on FGM and education that stated that, while more research needs to be done, “emerging evidence illustrates that basic education can be an effective instrument for abandoning the practice of FGM.”

This research shows that women are less likely to have their daughters cut as their level of education rises. In addition, a higher level of education also makes fathers less likely to support FGM.

Education exposes students, male and female, to a variety of competing ideas and concepts and a broader worldview. This allows them to make more informed decisions regarding their own reproductive health and agency.

 

What is being done?

UNICEF’s education initiatives with local governments – such as their support of mobile schools and boarding schools, improved sanitation facilities and better quality curriculums – all contribute to ending the practice of female genital mutilation.

Programs in Egypt aim to introduce information on FGM to medical and nursing schools because the practice is highly medicalized there. Healthcare personnel play a key role in continuing the practice and therefore could play a key role in ending it. School-based interventions across the world focus on integrating information on FGM into compulsory science curriculums.

The Global Women PEACE Foundation, a joint American and Liberian NGO, devised their own curriculum for teachers and administrators to teach them how to have conversations about FGM and reproductive rights with their students. The Tostan Education Program targets the students with a four-part plan that teaches human rights, reproductive health, hygiene and problem-solving. Safe Hands for Girls, an American and Gambian initiative, also implements outreach and advocacy training in schools.

The emphasis on school-based interventions highlights the link between FGM and education, and the important role that schools can play in ending this dangerous practice.

– Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr