The rate of under 18 marriages for girls in The Gambia is extremely high, and in an attempt to tackle this problem, the legal age of marriage was raised to 18 in 2016. Despite this change in law, marriage before 18 is still extremely common since marriages are most often not registered to authorities. Instead, they are only symbolically formalised in a marriage ceremony, introducing a loophole to the new law. This lack of enforcement means that 36% of girls in The Gambia are pushed into an early marriage, whilst a survey in 2013 confirmed that 16% of women had married by the age of 15.
The poorest girls are most at risk of being subjected to child marriage [link to The Gambia page] as their families cannot afford to care for them or keep them in education. Furthermore, Gambian parents also fear that their daughters will fall pregnant out of wedlock, whether this be through consensual means or not. The biological father of a child born out of wedlock will often deny that the child is his and consequently abandon the mother. This contributes to the financial burden of already struggling families, and so a married girl is granted some security.
Negligence of Girls
Although married girls are often considered more financially secure, their health is often more neglected. Married girls under 18 are less likely to receive medical care during pregnancy and are also more prone to childbirth-related complications. In fact, the leading cause of death worldwide for girls aged 15 to 19 is traumatic childbirth.
In The Gambia, children are greatly valued, and the purpose of women or girls is to bear and raise children. This puts infertile girls at risk as they will often find themselves divorced and abandoned by their husbands, stripping them of the already minimal security that they have. If their husbands do not abandon them, they may instead marry a co-wife to bear children, lessening the girl’s worth within the marriage. A girl who cannot bear children is not valued and is therefore not protected.
Poverty and Education
Child marriages are more common in rural areas, presenting the impact of education and poverty. For instance, the median age of women to marry in the capital city is 21.0, whereas it is 17.6 in Basse, a rural area. Similarly, the median age for women with a secondary education to marry is 22.2, as opposed to girls without an education, wherein the median is 17.3. Furthermore, the figures considering the girl’s family’s wealth are 20.8 for wealthier families and 17.2 years for families that aren’t wealthy.
Technically, primary education is free to all Gambian children. However, there are many hidden costs that low-income families cannot afford. In the absence of funds for books, uniforms, and transportation, many parents must sacrifice their child’s education. This drives a lot of families to child marriage for some financial stability.
Approximately 50% of girls marry men who are at least 10 years their senior, and their spouses are frequently related to them; these can be distant cousins or more direct relations. This is a problem exclusive to the female population – men never marry when they are underaged.
The Attitude Towards Girls
In order to change the fate of girls in The Gambia, the underlying perception towards them must change. It is widely believed in The Gambia that it is understandable to arrange a marriage for an underaged girl if she is not in education, employment, or beneficial to the household.
Girls are treated as objects that benefit the household, and if they are not contributing to such, they can be used as currency amongst men, being traded between their fathers and husbands.
Although parents are often aware of the dangers of subjecting their daughters to child marriages, they only really consider the effect on their physical health. The emotional wellbeing of the girl is often not thought about, and the desperation for financial security pushes parents to make this ultimate sacrifice.
They Need Your Help
Through fundraising, volunteering, and sponsoring, you can make a difference in a young girl’s life and help protect her from the fate of child marriage. Children should not have to turn to marriage as a means of survival; every child deserves an education and a free and happy childhood.
The mission of Orphans in Need is to provide children with a platform to grow and give them the means to build a better and brighter future. We promise to support the personal development of children by teaching them new skills and improving their future prospects. By assisting them in their education and skillset, fewer families will need to rely on child marriage as a form of financial security.
Donate to Orphans in Need today to save a child in The Gambia from the dreaded fate of child marriage.