Gambia has joined Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Malawi to ensure that girls do not face death from early pregnancy by banning child marriages.
Marrying early often means girls drop out of school, are exposed to domestic and sexual violence, increases in serious health risks and death from early pregnancies and HIV, ultimately trapping young girls in poverty.
Child marriage is both physically and psychologically damaging. A total of 36% of girls in the Gambia are married before 18, and approximately 7% before 15, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Taking a tough stance, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh announced a ban on child marriage in the predominantly Muslim small West African nation of about 1.8 million people. He warned that heavy jail terms would be handed down to those found breaking the law.
"As from today, July 6, child marriage is illegal and is banned in The Gambia," Jammeh told a group of Muslim elders in the capital, Banjul. "Anyone who marries a girl under 18 years will spend 20 years in jail. The girls' parents would spend 21 years in jail and anyone who knows about it and fails to report the matter to the authorities would spend 10 years in jail."