(JollofNews) – Women in the Gambia are being continuously discriminated against and subjected to horrific sexual violence including murder and rape, a report by the United States State Department said.
In its 2012 annual Human Rights and Labour Report released on Thursday, the State Department said over the past year, rape including spousal rape, was a widespread problem in the Gambia with at least six men being prosecuted for rape.
It added that although the maximum penalty for attempted rape is seven years’ imprisonment, the law against spousal rape was difficult to enforce effectively, as many Gambians did not consider spousal rape a crime and failed to report it. It said Gambian police generally considered reports of spousal rape to be domestic issues outside of their jurisdiction.
The State Department further said while Gambian law prohibits any form of violence against women, domestic violence was a problem and was underreported due to social stigma, and the intervention of family elders.
It added that between January and October last year, officials from the Department of Social Welfare had recorded more than 375 cases of domestic violence, which included paternity and custody cases in addition to cases of violence against children and women.
Among some of the cases that were documented include the shooting and killing of a Bakalarr village housewife in February by her 81-year-old husband, Sheriff Aba Hydara, who claimed she had angered him over her control of his garden and that he had no regrets killing her.
The State Department added that although there were no reported cases last year, sexual harassment of women remained an on-going problem in the country.
The State Department said while Gambian law provides equal rights to men and women and prohibits discrimination on grounds of gender; women experienced a wide range of discrimination in matrimonial rights, property ownership, and inheritance rights.
It added that Gambian women in polygamous marriages had problems with the property and other rights arising from the marriage and while they had the option to divorce, there is no legal right to disapprove or be notified in advance of subsequent marriages by their husbands.
Force marriage and harmful traditional practices
The State Department said over the year, the Gambia did not enact a law against forced marriage and as a result, the practice is still prevalent with many village girls being forced to marry at a young age.
It added there are also no law prohibiting female genital mutilation and the practice had remained widespread. Citing a 2005-06 survey by UNICEF, it said almost 80 per cent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 19 in the country had undergone genital mutilation and that seven of the nine major ethnic groups practiced it on girls from shortly after birth until age 16.
It said some religious leaders publicly defended the practice and there were reports of health complications, including deaths, associated with the practice although no accurate statistics were available.