Although The Gambia has a small coastline of 80km, its fishing sector is responsible for roughly 12% of the country’s total GDP. In March 2022, the Minister of Fisheries announced that the fishing sector created at least 300,000 jobs in the country, emphasizing the sector’s potential to aid in poverty reduction and economic growth. The country’s waters are populated with diverse species of fish that are sourced throughout the year. However, oysters have become especially important for The Gambia’s social and economic development.

5 Facts About the Female-Led Oyster Sector in The Gambia

  1. Women run The Gambia’s oyster trade: Oyster fishing in The Gambia is a day-long process that involves collecting oysters from mangrove roots, preparing them on land and then transporting and selling them in the Gambian capital of Banjul. The TRY Oyster Women’s Association (TRY OWA) completely oversees oyster harvesting in the country’s Tanbi region. Approximately 500 Tanbi-area women belong to the TRY OWA, which was founded in 2007 by Fatou Janha Mboob, a Gambian social worker. A nonprofit collective, the organization works to improve the lives of The Gambia’s female oyster pickers by spearheading “environmental and social initiatives” and providing “training in financial management, food hygiene and water safety.”
  2. Increased flooding and The Gambia’s oyster trade: Climate change has contributed to increased flooding in The Gambia. Frequent flooding can lead to sewage entering the mangroves where the oysters are harvested. In turn, this can destroy the wetland ecosystem, damage the roots of mangrove plants and result in spoiled, unsaleable oysters. In an initiative to protect the wetland forests, the TRY OWA has partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to plant over 50,000 mangrove seedlings to counteract the effects of deforestation and extreme climate change. In 2012, the UNDP awarded Mboob the Equator Prize for her leadership in such initiatives.
  3. Marie Sambou’s award: In 2019, the Global Youth Innovation Network Gambia acknowledged the work of Marie Sambou, a Gambian oyster harvester, by granting her the Young Business Innovation of the Year award. The award included a gift of 35,000 dalasis, equivalent to about $580, which she pledged to spend on a new fiber boat for oyster fishing.
  4. Food insecurity: An estimated 80% or more of the world’s fish supplies have deteriorated due to overfishing and extreme population growth. As of 2021, The Gambia had experienced a 5%-8% increase in food insecurity. Severe droughts, flooding and misuse of natural resources have impacted fishing in The Gambia and contributed to the rise in food insecurity. Additionally, illegal fishing activities by bigger nations on Gambian waters are depleting the fish supplies that many Gambians rely on for sustenance and survival, thereby heightening the threat of poverty. For instance, TRY OWA oyster harvesters may make up to £30 on successful days. However, when tides are too high, they may not be able to harvest any oysters at all. A short 4-month harvesting season further limits economic opportunity, making income a “primary concern” and forcing many to “supplement their earnings with subsistence farming.”
  5. Support from FISH4ACP: An initiative of the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), FISH4ACP works to improve the global fish value chain while promoting sustainable aquaculture. FISH4ACP and the Gambian government have partnered to expand the country’s mangrove oyster harvesting sector. The agreement aims to improve the lives of the sector’s women workers, increase local access to nutritious, low-cost food, implement improved production methods and advance sustainable development over the next decade. Furthermore, it incorporates pilot schemes for the development and sale of new products, like jewelry and animal feed, that will make practical use of oyster shell byproducts.

Looking Ahead

The oyster sector in The Gambia, led by a dedicated group of women, has emerged as a powerful force for social and economic development in the country. Through the efforts of organizations like the TRY OWA and partnerships with entities such as the United Nations Development Programme and FISH4ACP, there are signs of progress with regard to protecting the wetland ecosystem and enhancing the livelihoods of female oyster harvesters. By supporting the oyster sector, The Gambia is paving the way for a more sustainable and prosperous future for its coastal communities.

Jennifer Preece
Photo: Flickr

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

Top 10 Facts About Girls’ Education in The Gambia
In the most densely populated country in West Africa, girls face significant barriers to education. But despite obstacles like traditional gender norms and the vicious poverty cycle that followed British colonialism, The Gambia has made impressive strides in making education more accessible for girls.

Here are the top 10 facts about girls’ education in The Gambia.

Top Ten Facts About Girls’ Education in The Gambia

  1. Primary schools have achieved gender parity. Hopes for girls’ education in The Gambia are high, especially for the youngest girls. Since 2007, there has been an equal number of Gambian boys and girls enrolled in primary school. A significant portion of this success can be attributed to the Education for All initiative, which was implemented by UNESCO in 2004.
  2. Primary school completion remains a hurdle. While the primary school enrollment gap has disappeared, primary school completion is a different picture. For every 100 boys that complete their basic education, only 74 girls do the same. From 2009 to 2012, the girls’ primary school completion rate dropped from 82 percent to 70 percent. Additionally, out of the girls that do complete basic education, few will go on to secondary school.
  3. Secondary school enrollment is unequal across genders. In The Gambia, the net secondary school enrollment rate is low to begin with, and girls only constitute approximately 30 percent of all students enrolled in secondary or vocational schools.
  4. Social expectations place pressure on girls. The traditional family structure values a girl’s role in domestic labor, from cooking and cleaning to caring for younger siblings. Especially as girls get older, there is an added opportunity cost to attending school: girls are unable to complete the plethora of tasks thrown at them––and they are unable to earn immediate income for their families.
  5. Girls in rural areas face unique obstacles. The Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) for girls living in urban areas was 73 percent, while the GER for girls in rural areas was 63 percent, as of 1999. But in one region farthest from the capital, girls’ GER was only 44 percent.
  6. School fees have been eliminated. In September 2013, the Global Partnership for Education partnered with the World Bank and The Gambian government to eliminate school fees for primary school. For families who could previously not afford to send their daughters to school, primary school became accessible. In September 2014, this was extended to upper basic and secondary schools as well.
  7. Scholarships for girls are available. Before school fees were abolished, Gambian government scholarships specifically for girls were available to encourage poor families to send their daughters to school. This government scholarship program increased girls’ school enrollment by nine percent. Still, many indirect costs, such as textbooks and uniforms, still place a disproportionate burden on poor families. But these top 10 facts about girls’ education in The Gambia reflect that the Gambian government is making girls’ education a priority: they now provide merit-based scholarships to alleviate these indirect costs.
  8. Mothers’ Clubs encourage girls. Across The Gambia, 90 Mothers’ Clubs are raising money and awareness for girls’ education. UNICEF provides labor-saving machines: less time working means more time for school. UNICEF also provides seed money for the women to embark on income-generating projects to support their local schools and alleviate the aforementioned indirect costs of girls’ education.
  9. Menstrual hygiene at school is improving. Historically, menstruation has forced girls to take time off from school, making it difficult to keep up with coursework. To address this, the Education for All initiative began providing free sanitary pads at schools. Studies showed that this initiative significantly increased girls’ self-confidence and school attendance rates. After sanitary pads were supplied, girls’ attendance increased from 68 percent up to nearly 90 percent.
  10. Take Our Daughters to Work inspires young girls. An initiative called “Take Our Daughters to Work” pairs young Gambian girls with female mentors. For one week, girls shadow their mentors at work, build important professional connections, and get a glimpse of what their futures can look like.

These top 10 facts about girls’ education in The Gambia show that despite social barriers, focused government initiatives and a dedicated community have the potential to change the status quo.

– Ivana Bozic
Photo: Flickr

Migration from The Gambia
Migration from The Gambia, a nation located in West Africa, has become extremely common due to widespread poverty and the belief that Europe offers more opportunities for success. Thousands of Gambians have begun the difficult journey across Africa to Libya, where they hope to cross the Mediterranean and enter Europe. Families sometimes believe so strongly that Europe is the solution for their children that they spend the last of their money to sponsor the trip.

Journey to Europe

Many migrants are not successful with this journey, however, and get stuck in Libyan prisons, where they often face gruelling conditions. Women are also particularly vulnerable, some of whom have been kidnapped and sold while attempting to reach Europe. Migrants who return to The Gambia because they are unable to get to Europe, perhaps due to detention in Libya, are often looked down upon by other Gambians, who believe that they simply did not try hard enough.

In response to the growing dangers associated with migration, several organizations are working to decrease migration from The Gambia and help Gambians who tried to migrate resettle in their country. In The Gambia, Youths Against Irregular Migration (YAIM) and Returnees From The Backway (RFTB) were formed, while international organizations including the European Union’s Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) developed programs for this cause.

Youths Against Irregular Migration (YAIM)

YAIM was created in 2017 by Gambian youths detained in a Libyan prison. One of the founders, Ndow, told IRIN News, “We were treated like slaves; we didn’t take a bath for months, so we tried to escape and they beat us seriously.” After this experience, Ndow, along with Sallah, Tunkara and Keita decided that once they got out of the prison they would share their stories and try to prevent other Gambians from attempting to migrate.

YAIM is also working to help Gambians find opportunities in The Gambia, rather than looking to Europe. They advocate for looking for local opportunities, although they recognize this persepcitve requires a significant change in the mindsets of many Gambians, as Europe has been idealized for so long.

YAIM spreads their message through social media, roadshows and airwaves. They finished their second “youth caravan” in the summer of 2018, both of which were sponsored by the German Embassy in Banjul. Thirty YAIM members traveled as a part of the caravan to two different regions in The Gambia, and spoke in public, high-traffic areas. YAIM recognizes the importance of its work and hopes that their efforts will make a difference in reducing migration from The Gambia.

Returnees From The Backway (RFTB)

Like YAIM, RFTB was founded in a Libyan detention center. This group focuses on helping migrants who have returned to The Gambia transition back into society by reducing the stigma associated with returning to the nation. RFTB spreads their message through tea ritual sessions, known as attaya, which are often attended by Gambian men.

Ultimately, RFTB wants to provide agricultural training to returnees and use the land given to them by the Kerewan local government to set up a farm run by returned migrants. If this project is successful, RFTB would like to expand and set up farms across the nation.

European Union’s Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF)

At an international level, the European Union established the Trust Fund for Africa in 2015 to help manage the flow of migrants from Africa into Europe. As a part of this Trust Fund, the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) — which currently has 11 million Euros in funding — wants to help young people in Africa gain entrepreneurial skills to help create jobs and expand markets.

In The Gambia, YEP plans to help over 7,000 youths complete technical or vocational training, support the return of migrants from Europe, encourage the creation of modern manufacturing jobs and services, and raise awareness amongst young populations about the importance of skills training. Their goal is to decrease migration from The Gambia by invigorating the Gambian economy and showing youths that they do not need to leave.

International Organization for Migration (IOM)

IOM launched their Migrant Protection and Reintegration program in November of 2017. This program will offer reintegration packages to migrants that will help them rebuild their lives in The Gambia. Like the other three organizations, they are attempting to change the mindset of Gambians, encouraging them to view The Gambia as a place with opportunity and potential.

One of the specific projects the IOM is supporting is the founding of a large-scale chicken raising business in Parkour that will provide employment to returnees and help them regain their social standing and earn an income. Similar to the RFTB’s plan to create a migrant-run farm, this initiative will empower returnees and perhaps inspire others to consider returning if they know there are opportunities.

Advocacy and Prosperity

These local and international organizations are taking an important step by focusing on the improvement of The Gambia and discouraging people from embarking on a journey that is often unsafe and sometimes fatal.

Once more people understand the realities of migrating and develop more faith in their country, migration from The Gambia will hopefully begin to decline, increasing safety and prosperity.

– Sara Olk

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in the Gambia
The Islamic Republic of Gambia is a small West African nation of fewer than two million people and surrounded on almost all sides by Senegal. With an economy built on a small patch of tourism, peanuts, and money sent home from abroad, poverty in the Gambia has had a period of stability for the past two decades.

The authoritarian government of outgoing president Yahya Jammeh has been in power since 1994. As recently as 2006, President Jammeh’s campaign claimed that government aid and continued development would only go to its supporters, while those who supported others should expect nothing.

Hope for Reducing Poverty in The Gambia

Today, more than a third of The Gambia’s population lives below the U.N. poverty line of $1.25 per day. The nation’s poor are mostly in rural areas, and 60 percent of The Gambia relies on agriculture to make a living. Irregular rainfall, economic instability and fluctuating food pricing all contribute to the plight of the Gambian proletariat.

Low productivity persists in the staple area of rice farming, where inefficient technologies and practices lead to less yield during harvests and contribute to worsening soil fertility. Few rural institutions are able to provide basic social services and credit.

In a surprise turn of events, President Jammeh lost this year’s election to a candidate who ran on issues of economic revival, ending human rights violations, and establishing a more earnest democracy. With the end of Jammeh’s presidency comes a potential for The Gambia to begin receiving increased funding from the U.N. and E.U. Ban Ki-moon and Federica Mogherini have stated, on behalf of the U.N. and E.U. respectively, that their institutions are prepared to support The Gambia.

The President-elect, Adama Barrow, is already promising to strengthen relations with Europe and other potential partners in development. Many relationships had been strained by the Jammeh administration, and after 22 years, The Gambia may be in a position to put its most vulnerable at the forefront of its government.

Aaron Walsh

Photo: Flickr