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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

Victories Against FGM in Africa
Today, there are an estimated 200 million women and girls living with female genital mutilation, or FGM. FGM is widely practiced in 30 countries around the world.  At least 65 to 70 percent of FGM victims live in Africa.

According to the World Health Organization, FGM is a broad term including “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” Traditionally, it is used to control female sexuality, but it often leaves a myriad of health and social problems for survivors. Despite the ingrained nature of this practice, in recent years there have been several victories against FGM in Africa.

Seven Victories Against FGM in Africa

  1. Liberian Abolishment: After years of political negotiation, the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf fulfilled her 2015 vow to abolish FGM. FGM affects more than 50 percent of Liberian girls and is used as a ritual in the Sande secret society’s coming-of-age ceremony.Many traditional organizations have threatened death toward activists who expose their rituals. Despite these challenges, Africa’s first female executive leader executed one of the largest victories against FGM in Africa.
  2. The Girl Generation: This NGO works to connect girls from across the continent to “end Female Genital Mutilation in this generation.” It has given over $1.6 million in grants to grassroots organizations in eight African countries from Nigeria to Mali. It focuses mainly on changing social attitudes about the practice in rural areas where it is common.Regarding the organization’s work, one woman said, “I am now a changed person. When I came here yesterday, I never thought anyone will convince me FGM is bad, but now I’m convinced, and will stand up for my younger sisters and cousins not to be subjected to the cut.”
  3. The American Doctor: Dr. Marci Bower, a San Francisco native, spent two weeks in Nairobi surgically repairing the scars left by FGM. Victims of FGM often experience complications in childbirth and infections in the cut area.In Kenya, about five million women are living with FGM, though the practicing rate of 27 percent is much lower than that of the countries in northern Africa. Dr. Bower operated on 44 local women and trained others to do the same when she returned to the United States.
  4. Kembatta Women Stand Together: One Ethiopian woman, Bogaletch Gebre, has worked for decades to eliminate FGM in her native country. After a traumatic cutting at the age of 12 and an education as a Fullbright scholar, Gebre founded Kembatti Mentti Gezzina or Kembatta Women Stand Together to fight FGM. Her organization has been lauded for reducing FGM rates in parts of Ethiopia from 100 percent to three percent through community outreach and information campaigns.
  5. Kenyan Girls App: Five teenage girls from the Luo ethnic group in Kenya invented an app to help their peers escape FGM. The girls were the only African team to compete in  2017’s Technovation contest, sponsored by Verizon, Google and the U.N.Their entry, called “I-cut,” includes options for users to seek medical treatment, report FGM in their local communities, donate to the cause, escape the ritual and learn more about FGM. One team member, Synthia Otieno, said their goal for the app was to “restore hope to hopeless girls.”
  6. Masaai Women: In the nomadic Masaai community, FGM is commonly practiced as an initiation ceremony. However, after witnessing her sister undergo FGM and an abusive child marriage, Nice Leng’ete decided to use her high school education to make a difference.After years of bargaining and dialogue, Leng’ete has saved over 15,000 girls from cutting, winning one of the largest victories against FGM in Africa. Leng’ete became the first woman to speak before the highest Masaai elder council, which formally abolished FGM for all 1.5 million Masaii people.
  7. African Men Against FGM: It is not only women who are achieving victories against FGM in Africa. Male activists, such as Kelechukwu Nwachukwu from Nigeria and Tony Mwebia from Kenya, are working to inform African men about the realities of FGM.Despite the prevalence of FGM in their communities because of the secretive nature of the practice, many African men are unaware of the pain FGM causes. Nwachukwu commented, “I’ve seen girls who have died [from FGM] but the parents don’t make the link. Many will tell that it’s just God’s will.” Despite the challenges, male activists have become an essential part of the movement to end FGM in a generation.

Female genital mutilation contributes to poverty in areas where it is practiced. Girls are cut at young ages to prepare them for child marriage, a practice linked to lower development. As the British NGO ActionAid put it, “Girls who marry young are more likely to be poor and stay poor.” Each victory against FGM in Africa is a victory against extreme poverty and the violation of women’s human rights.

– Lydia Cardwell
Photo: Flickr

female_genital_mutilation
Female genital mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision, has been occurring for hundreds of years in mostly sub-Saharan and northeast African regions. The term “female genital mutilation” encompasses every procedure where partial or total removal of the external female genitalia occurs, as well as any general injury to those organs without a distinct medical purpose.

The practice of FGM is internationally seen as a violation of human rights for women and young girls because it emulates the inequality between genders and represents extreme discrimination against women. On top of this, the following rights are also violated: the right to security, physical integrity, health, freedom from torture and from inhumane treatment–especially when the procedure can result in death.

There are four general classifications of FGM: clitoridectomy, excision, infibulation and an “other” category. Clitoridectomy entails the removal of part of or the entire clitoris and is one of the most common types. Excision is where they remove part of or the entire clitoris and labia minora, and this can be with or without cutting the labia majora. Infibulation includes the reduction of the vaginal opening by cutting and repositioning the labia majora to make a covering, with or without removing the clitoris. The “other” category classifies any other harmful procedures to a woman’s reproductive organs in a non-medical way.

FGM is in no way beneficial to a woman’s health, and in fact, it is harmful in several ways. Short-term effects include hemorrhage, severe pain, tetanus and urine retention. Long-term effects include cysts, recurrent urinary tract and bladder infections, infertility, childbirth complications and newborn deaths. This kind of procedure is mostly done to newborns or girls around 15 years of age that are going through puberty. Today, over 125 million women and girls in the Middle East and Northern Africa have been circumcised. By 2030, it is estimated that a further 86 million young women around the world will experience this procedure as well.

Many officials at UNICEF disagree with the practice of FGM and state it is not necessary in Islamic countries. They say it is a very old practice, traced back to the Egyptian pharaohs, and that the Koran says how humans were created in the perfect way, so changing them is not justified by religion.

Fahma Mohamed, a 17-year-old student that leads the Guardian’s campaign to end FGM, has acquired over 212,000 signatures in her petition against the issue. She has even gotten recognition from the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, who has made it a priority to end FGM because of how it threatens the empowerment of women.

There have been progressive signs in the worldwide campaign to end the practice of female genital mutilation with multiple countries like Kenya, Uganda and Guinea-Bissau adopting laws against it. The girls themselves understand the risks of being circumcised, and mothers who have dealt with the ordeal are fighting more and more to protect their daughters from the same fate. Schools can be directed to address the issue so that the people in these countries can learn about the issue and how to shield their young women from it.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner 

Sources: The Guardian (1), The Guardian (2), World Health Organization
Photo: Girls’ Globe

Female Genital Mutilation
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) ruins countless lives every day. FGM is a humiliating torturous cutting of the female genitalia carried out by various groups of the community, including health practitioners, elderly people and female relatives. According to the World Health Organization (WHO,) four types of FGM procedures exist:

Clitoridectomy

The partial or complete removal of the clitoris.

Excision

Involves removal or partial removal of clitoris, as well as labia.

Infibulation

Narrowing of the vaginal opening.

Other

This includes other forms of FGM not classified above, such as, burning, piercing or scraping. Any one of these types of FGMs is carried out on a female at any time in her life.

Millions of cases of FGM are reported each year. According to the WHO, over 100 million women and girls have had their human rights violated.

FGM is considered a human rights violation because it inflicts unnecessary pain and harm to unwilling women and girls. Laws against FGM practices have been created in 18 African countries. If caught sentences from three months up to life in prison are given.

There are also 12 industrialized nations that have passed laws criminalizing FGM.

An 8-year-old girl from Djibouti died from the effects of FGM. She was held down by friends and neighbors while a “practitioner” subjected her to FGM. Her clitoris, labia minora and labia majora, all external genitalia, was cut away causing uncontrollable bleeding.

After the procedure was done the girl’s legs were tied shut to promote “healing” and she was refused water because the need to pass urine was thought to introduce bacteria to the wounds. The young helpless girl continued to bleed throughout the evening and sob uncontrollably due to pain.

Eventually the girl was taken to the hospital and given a blood transfusion. Sadly, it was too late to save her life.

FGM has been reported in 28 African countries and various Asian countries.

According to data from the WHO, seven countries: Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Guinea, Mali, Somalia and Sudan have a FGM prevalence rate affecting 85 percent or more women. Other African countries have only slightly lower prevalence rates; a large portion of the African continent has not received FGM rates.

FGM is most likely performed in lower class poverty-stricken communities. This is due in part to the fact women and girls do not know FGM is against the law. Most believe that it is there duty as a woman to have FGM performed and if they refuse, they will be harshly criticized and shamed. These are the ones who are not held down and forced against their will.

Several campaigns to eradicate FGM from the world are underway. One government organization, the United Nations, has been tackling it as one of the world’s Millennium Development Goals. Also, Women against Female Genital Mutilation leads campaigns to increase awareness of FGM laws and harmful health and psychological effects of FGM on females.

The continuation of advocacy for women and girls suffering from Female Genital Mutilation needs to last until FGM prevalence is zero. People should continue to call their congressmen, write their legislature, and advocate for worlds helpless.

Hopefully, through the increased awareness, global campaigns, and laws FGM will become a thing of the past and no female will have to endure torturous inhumane pain ever again.

– Amy Robinson

Sources: World Health Organization, All Africa, WHO, UNICEF, Center for Reproductive Rights
Photo: International Business Times

Women UNICEF 2_opt
140 million women across the globe have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) or cutting, otherwise known as female circumcision. The age-old practice could involve removing the clitoral hood, clitoridectomy, or the removal of the inner labia or outer labia, ensuring pre-marital virginity as well as preventing extra-marital sex. February 6th is the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, an observance that raises awareness of the harmful effects of this practice.

This year marks the 10th commemoration of the declaration of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting since the first conference was held in Addis Ababa in 2003. In 2000, USAID officially introduced the eradication of FGM to its development agenda. Significant development has occurred since, but there is much more to be accomplished.

USAID acknowledges the incredible progress that has been achieved thus far. In 2004, UNICEF presented an important publication, “Changing A Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting,” providing extensive facts and information on the practice while promoting change.  In 2008, UNFPA and UNICEF joined hands to create “Accelerating Change”, a program that strives to fund and implement official policies to affect change. Last year, the UN General Assembly called for states to denounce harmful practices against women and girls, specifically FGM.

Despite the progress made, every year 3 million girls remain at risk of this cruel procedure. The International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation serves to remind us to work towards ending this cruelty that had been disguised as the norm in many societies.

Pimrapee Thungkasemvathana

Source: USAID

Photo: eLearning Africa