Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh has told lawmakers to introduce legislation to ban child marriage.
Mr Jammeh said anyone marrying a girl aged below 18 would be jailed for up to 20 years.
Speaking at the Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations at the end of Ramadan, he said parents and imams who perform the ceremonies would also face prison.
Some 46% of girls in The Gambia get married before they are 18, according to the UN children’s agency (Unicef).
Announcing the ban and jail terms, Mr Jammeh said: “If you want to know whether what I am saying is true or not, try it tomorrow and see.”
Women’s rights campaigners have welcomed the ban, however some say that it would be better to engage with local communities to try to change attitudes towards child marriage instead of threatening families with prison sentences,
“I don’t think locking parents up is the answer… it could lead to a major backlash and sabotage the ban,” Isatou Jeng of the women’s rights organisation Girls Agenda told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from the Gambian capital, Banjul.
In December last year, Mr Jammeh also outlawed female genital mutilation (FGM), with a prison sentence of up to three years for those that ignored the ban.
He said the practice had no place in Islam or in modern society.
Three-quarters of women in the mostly Muslim country have had the procedure, according to Unicef.