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Oh Dear!


Gambia: Oh dear!, The

New African,  Apr 2003  by Sey, Abdoulie

Around Africa

"Impressionable" Gambian parents are taking money and handing over their children to Western paedophiles who visit the country to prey on children. Abdoulie Sey reports from Banjul.

When on a hot February afternoon a suburb of the Greater Banjul Area (GBA) was raided by the security forces in search of suspected paedophiles, many Gambians underestimated the exact scale of the problem. In that raid, several people - all Gambians - were arrested and a host of child pornographic material taken away.

It was later discovered that some parents acted as "willing tools" for white males who overwhelm them with money and other gifts to "buy" their silence as their own children were left at the mercy of Western visitors who sometimes take the children abroad.

It is only after the February police incursion in the GBA and revelations by the Belgian magazine, Humour (which said The Gambia was being systematically invaded by European paedophiles), that the local police moved into action.

The interior minister, Ousman Badjie, has confirmed that the paedophiles came from Britain, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Latin America and even as far away as Thailand. He said Gambian children were under an "insidious" threat from Western tourists who prefer teenage girls for love and companionship to older women.

He said "the startling facts" of the matter are pointing to both black and white people, living in the sprawling settlements of Kololi and Manjai, just outside Serrekunda, the main suburb of the capital, Banjul.

Kololi and Manjai are close to the Tourism Development Area and are directly affected by the activities of the tourism industry, good or bad.

The government says it is ready to deal seriously with anyone found guilty of sexually abusing children. It has since forwarded a bill to parliament against bumsters and paedophiles.

At the time of writing, the bill had been ratified by the National Assembly as the Tourism Offence Act. It prescribes outright deportation for any visitor found guilty of the offence, and the "worst kind of penalty" for Gambian parents found aiding, abetting and even tacitly condoning the "outrageous activities" of paedophiles.

But it was the presentation by the former master of the high court, Ousman Jammeh, at a workshop on commercial sexual exploitation of children that caused the public to hold its breath.

Jammeh, now a private legal practitioner, said when he was high court master, he was approached by a senior lawyer who complained about the "unhelpful attitude" of a senior judge who was not keen to sign an adoption order application for a European gentleman. The European wanted to "adopt" 11 Gambian children!

The lawyer told Jammeh that the request was on behalf of "philanthropists" operating in Thailand and Latin America. They were seeking the court order to allow them to get the children out of the country.

The lawyer had given Jammeh the impression that the parents of the children were dead, leaving them destitute. But two weeks after their encounter, Jammeh made his own investigations and discovered the truth.

The parents of the 11 children were very much alive and were so "impressionable" that they had accepted the offer for the "white strangers" to take their children abroad where they would join other children from other parts of Africa lured in similar fashion out of their home countries.

Jammeh told the lawyer that the court could not grant the order "because it was not in the interest of our children." "The lawyer was very unhappy because of the money involved".

Last year alone, over 40 cases relating to the abuse of children were heard in The Gambian courts.

Paedophilia, which is also a burning issue in neighbouring Senegal, provides a direct test to The Gambian government's resolve to fulfil its obligation to international conventions and human rights instruments protecting children.

But so far, as Ousman Jammeh pointed out, the situation "leaves much to be desired". The country is yet to set up a National Commission for Children as required by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which The Gambia is a signatory.

Copyright International Communications Apr 2003
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

2003 Apr