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An Open Letter to the President

Aug 12, 2009, 8:01 AM

His Excellency

Sheikh Prof. Alh. Yahya A.J.J Jammeh

President of the Republic of the Gambia

State House



Date: 10th August, 2009


Your Excellency,

The Women's Rights movement of the Gambia would like to appeal to your good office regarding the matter of the jailed journalists and in particular regarding Sarata Jabbi-Dibba's case.

We would like to draw your attention to the fact that Sarata Jabbi-Dibba is a lactating mother of a 7-month-old baby boy. We are of the opinion that the baby's tender age requires that he be with his mother at all times, as no other person or institution can assume her role and responsibilities towards him.

The baby boy is totally dependent on his mother for feeding, care and support, which must be provided in an environment free from distress and frustration. The prison in which she has been incarcerated is not such an environment. In the light of this, we urge you to prevail in this matter with urgency, taking into consideration your government's commitment to upholding the basic principles of human rights and respecting the Conventions, Constitution and Policies it has ratified.

Your Excellency, it is not "in the best interest of the child" that he be obliged to formula feeding: his mother's choice to breastfeed him should be upheld: it is thus essential that they not be separated. The situation in which she currently finds herself threatens the proper nutrition of the child.

We also urge you to take into consideration that breastfeeding is a natural life saving process that only a mother can give to a child. Anything that threatens this puts the health and survival of the child at great risk.

We are aware that children are the most vulnerable groups with regard to nutrition due to the combined increased risk of death due to diarrhoea, pneumonia and under nutrition. This child faces this possibility if the mother remains in prison. An alternative to incarcerating a breast feeding or pregnant woman is to give a non-custodial or non-institutional sentence.  This is the first option that should be considered given the special circumstances of Sarata Jabbi-Dibba and her seven-month-old baby who is totally dependent on her.

We want to take this occasion to remind you of some of the relevant articles regarding the matter of nursing/lactating and pregnant women in the International Conventions to which The Gambia is a State Party.

The African Charter on the Rights of the Child

Article 30: Children of Imprisoned Mothers

1.         States Parties to the present Charter shall undertake to provide special treatment to expectant mothers and to mothers of infants and young children who have been accused or found guilty of infringing the penal law shall in particular:

(a)        Ensure that a non - custodial sentence will always be first considered when sentencing such mothers;

(b)        Establish and promote measures alternative to institutional confinement for the treatment of such mothers; and

(d)   Ensure that a mother shall not be imprisoned with her child;

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol)

Article 24:         Special Protection of Women in Distress

 The States Parties undertake to:


b) Ensure the right of pregnant or nursing women or women in detention by providing them with an environment which is suitable to their condition and the right to be treated with dignity.


Provisions of the Children's Act - 2005 The Gambia

Section 218:      Restrictions on Punishment

(1)        A child shall not be -

(a)        Ordered to be imprisoned; or

(b)        Subjected to the death penalty or have the death penalty recorded against him or her

(2)        A court shall, on sentencing an expectant or a nursing mother, consider the imposition of a non institutional sentence as an alternative measure to imprisonment.

(3)        Where institutional sentence is mandatory or desirable, an expectant or a nursing mother shall be committed to and be held or detained at an appropriate centre or place designated by the Secretary of State for that purpose.

(4)        No mother and child shall be held or detained at an appropriate centre in pursuance to subsection (3) for a period longer that the time the child would have attained the age of six years.

(5)        Where a mother who has completed her nursing period is further given a sentence of imprisonment, the child shall be treated as a child in need of care and protection and may be committed to the care of the person who will ordinarily have custody, or by a committal order to -

(a)        His or her father; or

(b)        A fit and proper person

The 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia


Section 29: Right of Children


(1)        Children shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and subject to legislation enacted in the best interest of children, to know and be cared for by their parents.

In the light of the above provisions we urge you to intervene in this case to protect, promote and respect the rights of this innocent child and his mother, who is performing a biologically required responsibility to protect life.

We would like to call your attention to your commitment to women's concerns and to protect the child and his mother in her sex specific role as a lactating mother. This is an issue we fervently solicit.


Yours faithfully

The Women's Rights Movement in The Gambia


Signed on behalf of the Movement


Dr Isatou Touray

Executive Director