As the National Assembly is urgently preparing to pass tough legislation against child marriage following the pronouncement by President Yaya Jammeh, they should not lose sight of a recent study by UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, which identified Gambia as one of Africa’s top destinations for child sex tourism.

Although, the Sexual Offenses Act that was passed in 2004 by the National Assembly is meant to protect children from sexual abuse, Gambia still remained the main destination for child sex tourism in West Africa. With poverty so pervasive in the country and many people living on less than a dollar a day, hundreds of girls and boys are sexually exploited and many are forced into marriage just for their parents to earn extra income.

Every year about 150, 000 tourists visit the Gambia mostly from Britain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Holland and Germany. Many are coming mainly to have sex with children. Travelling child sex offenders would come into the country disguising as tourists and using a variety of ways to gain access to poor children. For instance, abusers may seek out fruit sellers in the streets, at the beaches, in the motels, restaurants or even students on afternoon shifts who roam the tourism areas in the evenings looking for sponsorship for their education.  

Sexual exploitation of children in our country is growing exponentially and while destitute parents and corrupt officials supposed to curb the practice are turning a blind eye to this horrible menace, poverty and corrupt law enforcement officers are undermining the combat against child sex tourism.

Some major hotels have taken appropriate measures to tighten the ban such as prohibiting their guests to take minors into their rooms or expelling their staff who solicit children for the guests, most offenders now prefer to stay in small motels or privately rented accommodations spreading around the tourism area where most are engaged in commercial child sex offenses.

Having a law against child marriage is not the end of the fight to eradicate child offenses whether is child marriage or child sex tourism. Successfully enforcing the new law as well as the Sexual Offenses Act will still remain a challenge. A law devoid of effective enforcement is meaningless and unless the fight is also taken to the corrupt law enforcement officers, Governors, Chiefs and Alkalos it will just be another publicity stunt that would likely be forgotten overtime just like what happened to the Smoking Act, the Bleaching Act and the Children’s Act of 2005. The UNICEF report has provided much food for thought for not only our legislators, but our society at large.

Child marriage and child sex tourism are the twin evils of crime against children. Implementing the ban on child marriage will be more difficult because of entrenched cultural and traditional beliefs. It is our duty to protect our innocent little boys and girls. As one great scientist once said, “let us sacrifice our today so that our children can have a better tomorrow.”

Written By An Insider Banjul

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