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Sexual Exploitation Of Children Rises In Gambia

Sexual Exploitation Of Children Rises In Gambia, Government And Unicef Say

Sexual abuse and exploitation of children in Gambia is rising because of sex tourism from Britain and Northern Europe and "sugar daddy" relationships with adult nationals of the West African country, according to a report from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Gambian Government.

Last year as many as 100,000 tourists, mainly from Britain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Germany, visited Gambia, the report says. Africa's smallest country, and one of the world's least developed (LDC), has an estimated population of about 1.5 million with a gross national income (GNI) of $330 per capita.

"The Gambia is a vulnerable target for…unscrupulous visitors such as suspected or convicted paedophiles who enter the country in search of a low-profile location to commit their crimes against children silently and with impunity," the report quotes a previous UNICEF study as saying.

Giving details of the exploitation of girls from anecdotal evidence, the report says sex tourism prostitution has engendered consumerism, with girls saying that being a sex worker "means having access to lots of cash to buy jeans, shoes, to go to beauty salons for hair and nail care to show off at beach parties and nightclubs."

The child prostitutes did not "consider themselves as children and do not understand that they require special protection because of their age," it says.

Gambia passed a Tourism Offences Act last year which says, "A person who makes an unlawful sexual advance to a child commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of 20,000 Dalasis (about $688) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to both the fine and imprisonment."

Meanwhile, "sugar daddies" - adult Gambian men, including teachers and other trusted adults - exploit local girls in exchange for money and gifts, the study says.

The report notes that by moving to urban areas, "many families have been uprooted from rural surroundings where the extended family and kinship network had served not only as a system of safety net, but also as a system of collective watch and responsibility for children in every respect."

Parents in the 90 per cent Muslim country complained that children's ideas about Western values and lifestyles, as well as the increasing clamour over children's rights, were making it difficult for them to have control over their children.

Many community leaders also expressed the fear that offering sex education in schools "was a Western notion that simply encouraged children to engage in immoral behaviour."

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