Last Updated 15 November 2021

Surrounded by Senegal, apart from a short strip of Atlantic coastline at its western end, Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa.

As of July 2021, Gambia’s population encompasses about 2.2 million people, while according to 2013 data, 95.7% of this population identifies as Muslim, with 4.2% identifying as Christian, and 0.1% identifying as “none”.1 Most Muslims in Gambia are Sunnis and most Christians in Gambia are Roman Catholic.2 Over half of Gambia’s population is under twenty-five years old. Gambia is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as well as the Islamic Development Bank (IDB).3

Over two decades under the rule of President Yahya Jammeh ended with the election of December 2016 and the Presidency of Adama Barrow, a leader whom some hoped would bring significant change to Gambia. In the last few years under President Adama Barrow, a significant amount of attention has focused on whether former leader Jammeh will face the consequences of his actions in Gambia, but a recent pact between Jammeh’s APRC party and Barrow’s NPP party, formed in December 2019, suggests that it is unlikely.4 While the pact’s details are not known to the public, it may include an agreement that the APRC will support Barrow in return for a reconsideration of Jammeh’s exiled status.5

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

Gambia’s first Constitution after gaining independence from the British Empire in 1965, then a new Republican Constitution was established in 1970 which was suspended in 1994 and a revised version was brought in under President Jammeh in 1997.6 Over the course of his leadership, the Constitution was amended fifty times. In June 2018 a Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) was established by the National Assembly to draft a new Constitution. This commission was comprised of 11 commissioners appointed by President Barrow who presented Parliament with a final draft in March of 2020.7 Yet the new Constitution has not come to fruition after the draft Constitution was rejected in September 2020 by Parliament.8 This means that the Constitution in place under President Jammeh is still valid, and will continue to be so as Gambia comes to its next presidential and parliamentary elections on the 4th of December 2021.9

Under the Constitution,10 Gambia does not have a state religion, and does not allow for political parties formed on the basis of religion. The Constitution establishes that “Every person shall have the freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice” and furthermore that this freedom shall “not impinge on the rights and freedoms of others or on the national interest, especially unity.” President Barrow has met and participated in religious celebrations with both Muslim and Christian leaders.11 NGOs, whether faith-based or not, are subject to the same rules.12

Education and children’s rights

In Gambia, most public schools offer a course on major world religions, whose teachers are provided by the government. Religious instruction in schools, whether private or public, is not required.13

Child marriage was made illegal in 2016, when roughly thirty percent of underage girls were married, and female genital mutilation (FGM) was outlawed the previous year.14 As of 2020, seventy-five percent of women and girls aged fifteen to forty-nine in Gambia have undergone FGM.15 According to UNICEF, since these laws were introduced there has been no data collected on the prevalence of child marriage and FGM.16 While certain officials in President Barrow’s administration have spoken out against child marriage and FGM, President Barrow himself has yet to comment on them.17 Some Gambians have suggested this may be a deliberate stance taken to avoid upsetting those who oppose the laws against child marriage and FGM.18

Family, community and society

LGBTI+ Community

In the consideration of the draft Constitution that was rejected in September 2020 by Gambia’s parliament, a debate occurred over whether to include the word “secular” in the description of the Gambian government.19 The Supreme Islamic Council felt this addition would lead to greater tolerance for particular ways of life they oppose, such as homosexuality, while the Christian Council supported this addition, hoping it would prevent the declaration of Gambia as an Islamic state.20

According to a study conducted by the Afrobarometer team and led by the Centre for Policy, Research and Strategic Studies (CepRass) in 2020, while most Gambians are tolerant to people of other national, ethnic, and religious backgrounds than themselves, an overwhelming majority are intolerant toward homosexuals.21 A large majority also say they support a secular government.22

While consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Gambia and criminalization was harshly enforced under former President Jammeh, there does not seem to be prosecutions or arrests of LGBTI+ people under these laws under President Barrow’s administration.23

Religious courts

Gambia’s court system is comprised of civil and qadi courts. Qadi courts, based on Islamic legal tradition, cover issues of marriage, child custody, divorce and inheritance for Muslim litigants, who can choose civil courts if they prefer.24

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of expression and the press are protected under Gambia’s current Constitution.

While many civil society organizations’ activities were restricted under President Jammeh, in the last few years under President Barrow, these groups have had more freedom to act as they wish.25 Yet although practices have changed in the transition of leadership, many laws have not. For example, in February 2018, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) found that “most Gambian media laws violated freedom of expression”.26

The Public Order Act,27 particularly section 5, which stipulates that permission from the police is required to protest, has been used to limit public gatherings.28

In January 2020, a protest led by the Three Years Jotna Movement, calling for the President to step down, became violent, involving the use of tear gas by police.29 In response, two local radio stations were closed by the police after they spoke about the violence of this protest.30 While the owners of these stations were arrested for “broadcasting incendiary messages and inciting violence” ultimately the charges were dropped.31 In July 2020, human rights activist and representative for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Madi Jobarteh, was arrested on charges of false information and broadcasting.32 This occurred following an interview regarding a Black Lives Matter Demonstration Jobarteh had led the month prior.33 Seven days after the charges were pressed, they were dropped by the Inspector General of the Gambia Police Force.34


The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion or belief in theory, but the government under previous President Jammeh promoted and tightly controlled religion, especially the Sunni Islam of more than 90% of the population, and railed against atheism.35 Numerous other justice and human rights issues connected to government control of religion and free expression have arisen in recent years. However, the new President Adama Barrow has pledged to reform and liberalize.36

The Gambia elevates crimes against religious adherents (Criminal Code,37 Article 117), stating:

[anyone who] destroys, damages or defiles a place of worship or any object which is held sacred by that class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of the class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to religion, commits a misdemeanour.

A person convicted on these charges is subject to a fine and/or imprisonment not exceeding two years.
Moreover, the code criminalizes any insult to religion of any denomination and uttering words with intent to wound religious feelings:

[anyone] who, with deliberate intention to wounding the religious feelings of a person, utters or writes any word, or makes any sound in the hearing of that person, or makes any gesture in the sight of that person, or places any object in the sight of that person, commits a misdemeanour and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of one year.

In July 2010, President Jammeh stressed that people should believe in God, saying that “If you don’t believe in God, you can never be grateful to humanity and you are even below a pig.”38

In 2009, state forces led mass hunts for those accused of witchcraft. Nearly 1,000 people were kidnapped, with many brought to secret government detention centers, beaten, and forced to drink hallucinogens, resulting in two deaths. The New York Times reported that the witch-hunting campaign had been sparked by President Jammeh’s belief that the recent death of his aunt was caused by witchcraft.39



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