Citizenship in The Gambia is governed by the relevant sections of the 1997 Constitution, which provides for citizenship to be granted on the basis of descent (arts 9 and 10). A provision to establish a presumption of citizenship in case of an abandoned child found in The Gambia was removed by a 2001 constitutional amendment. Citizenship is transmitted for only one generation if born outside The Gambia.

The constitution provides that a person married to a Gambian citizen (whether husband or wife) may apply for citizenship after seven years residence; as may a person ordinarily resident for not less than fifteen years if they satisfy the conditions set out in art.12(2). Only a person who has naturalised or registered as a citizen may be deprived of citizenship, and the Secretary of State (responsable government minister) must apply to the High Court for a deprivation order (art.13).

The Gambia Nationality and Citizenship Act of 1965 provides further detail on acquisition by registration or naturalisation, and on deprivation of citizenship. It remains in force in so far as its provisions are not contradicted by the constitution.

The independence constitution of 1965 and the 1970 constitution which replaced it both provided for citizenship to be granted based on birth in The Gambia; and for transmission to those born outside the country to be only from the father. The 1997 constitution removed gender discrimination in transmission to children or spouses, but also removed rights based on birth in The Gambia. However, existing citizens retained their status.

In 2015, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child welcomed some progress in birth registration, but expressed concern at the “huge number of children who are not immediately registered at birth”. In 2014, The Gambia acceded to the two international statelessness conventions, and in 2015, adopted an action plan against statelessness, including promises to improve birth registration and identification systems, and adopt a procedure to facilitate naturalisation of stateless persons.

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