African Child Policy Forum, a child rights policy, advocacy and research centre, is calling on the Gambian government to withdraw a controversial law that decriminalises female genital mutilation (FGM).

The Bill, which Gambian lawmakers voted to approve for its next parliamentary stage would lift a ban on FGM, which has been in place since 2015. If passed, the Bill would also run counter to the country’s 2022 National Policy for the Elimination of FGM.

The Gambia has signed up to several child rights instruments including the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol). Others are the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

In her remarks on the controversial Bill, Dr. Joan Nyanyuki, Executive Director of the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) stated, “If the law is repealed, Gambia will become the first country in the world to reverse a ban on FGM. Gambia has come a long way in realising children’s rights, and efforts made so far to ensure gender equality have been yielding fruits. Decriminalising FGM will reverse the progress made so far, increase girls’ vulnerability, diminish their agency and put their lives, health and development at risk.”

The 2015 law sets out jail terms of up to three years or a fine of Ksh 91,875 (USD 700) for those who carry out FGM, with the possibility of life imprisonment if the victim dies. Just last year, three Gambian women were convicted of performing FGM on eight girls.

“Taking any regressive measures goes against both the spirit and letter of these instruments. We call on the government of the Republic of Gambia to uphold its obligation to protect girls from harmful social and cultural practices, including FGM, by withdrawing this Bill,” added Dr Nyanyuki.