Gambia: Parliament Debates Motion to Legalize Skin Bleaching

The National Assembly of The Gambia on Wednesday 15 July, debated on a motion to repeal the “Skin Bleaching (Prohibition) Act of 1995. The controversial motion to repeal the Act was tabled by the Justice Minister as part of the government’s law reform process.

According to the Justice Minister, the Skin Bleaching (Prohibition) Act of 1995 was a “decree” passed by the former military ruler and President, Yahya Jammeh, to prohibit skin bleaching. The Act criminalizes the importation, selling and use of any “bleaching cream” for the purpose of lightening or whiting one’s skin.

However, the government is of the view that the law is discriminatory against women even though the Act did not specifically mention women.

Regardless of its adverse effects and the risk of exposing the skin to perilous chemicals, skin-bleaching practice remains a common practice across Africa customarily among women. It is prompted by numerous superficial factors with deep historical, economic and psychosomatic ancestries, something that is not likely to change overnight.

Statistics compiled by the World Health Organization in 2011 indicated that close up to 40% of Women in some Africa countries bleach their skins. Nigeria, Togo, South Africa, Senegal, and Mali appeared top in the said research with the most staggering numbers. However, some countries on the continent, including Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and recently Rwanda, have placed banned on importing and using skin lightening products.

The Gambian Assembly is divided over the government’s attempt to repeal the Act. Majority of MPs in The Gambia are conservative and have mostly spoken against the bill along religious and cultural arguments that “skin bleaching” is unnatural and sinful. They insisted the government maintains and enforce the Act. On the other side of the divide, other MPs strongly argued that criminalization of the practice twenty years ago has not solved what they all agreed to be a social ill.

Fair skins are often portrayed as more attractive in Africa, something the Socialist and Pan African MP, Hon. Halifa Sallah argued must be the fundamental issue to be addressed in African societies toward ending the practice of skin-bleaching.

Any evaluation of the economic effect of the skin-bleaching on the continent will likely reveal that “skin bleaching” is a multimillion-dollar industry regardless of its social damages.

Gambians on social media have urged the government to protect the “cultural “fibers of the society by maintaining the law. The bill is expected to be tabled in September for third reading and voting.

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