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Gambia Upholds Skin Bleaching Ban

The Barrow's government had sought to lift the skin-bleaching ban last year but the stand of the Legislators foiled the move.

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Godfrey Maotcha
Born and grew up in Blantyre Malawi. Worked for the Guardian ( local newspaper) and Montfort Media for six years. A print and online media house. Currently lives in Lilongwe Malawi

GAMBIA. Banjul: Gambian Lawmakers have to uphold a ban on skin-lightening products after a debate in parliament on March 22.

Skin-lightening or bleaching agents, especially unauthorised ones, may cause multiple health risks such as scarring, blistering, nerve and bone damage.

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It is also controversial as many argue phenomenon is a toxic legacy of colonialism.

The practice is widely common across Africa as well as South Asia and the Middle East.

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Skin-lightening has been banned in The Gambia since 1996, under former President Yahya Jammeh, who ruled for 22 years.

The former President fled The Gambia in 2017 after losing presidential elections to a relative unknown, Adama Barrow.

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Barrow’s government sought to lift the skin-bleaching ban last year, arguing that it discriminated against women.

Justice Minister, Dawda Jallow also argued that criminalising people for using cosmetic products was an unfair punishment.

But the Lawmakers argued in favour of maintaining the ban, citing health or religious reasons.

“The chemicals used in the production of skin-bleaching creams is hazardous to human health,” Momodou Camara, an MP, told the National assembly.

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Twenty-three MPs voted to uphold the ban, with 10 voting to repeal it, an AFP journalist said.

Other MPs were either not present in the chamber, or abstained from voting.

History of the ban

Skin lightening products were used in Africa as early as the days of the slave trade. They were used to distinguish between the free and enslaved.

The US Congress passed the Food Drugs and Cosmetics Act in 1938. The act approved the use of products containing Mercury.

But after the Second World War environmental and health effects of mercury began to appear and the US banned the use of mercury-containing skin products in 1973.

South Africa banned the use of Mercury in 1975. The European Economic Community imposed a ban in 1976 and Nigeria in 1982.

The use of skin bleaching products, in particular, was banned in Ivory Coast in 2015, followed by Ghana in 2017. Rwanda banned them in 2019.

According to the World Health Organization, 40 per cent of African women do skin bleaching.

The global skin bleaching products industry is estimated to be $31.2 billion by 2024.

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