n African Renaissance - Sociocultural factors influencing fertility among the Soninke tribe in the Gambia

Volume 13, Issue 1-2
  • ISSN : 1744-2532
  • E-ISSN: 2516-5305


Fertility is one of the most dynamic variables that can affect the demographic characteristics of a population, its size, rate of increase, geographic distribution, age and sex structure, life expectancy and family composition. Today, following the path of More Developed Countries (MDCs), a demographic transition from high fertility and mortality to low fertility and mortality can be said to be underway in most of the Less Developed Countries (LDCs) (Adebusoye, 2001). However, this transition is reported to be slowest in Sub-Saharan Africa (ibid). Similarly, slow decline in infertility rates are noted in the Gambia (Gambia Bureau of Statistics, GBOS). The fertility rates recorded during the population and housing census of 2003 and 2013 were 6.7 and 5.4 respectively. Moreover, the report of these censuses also show that Basse, the southern part of the country and predominantly a Soninke community, had the highest fertility rates of 6.9 in 2003 and 6.2 in 2013.

The Soninke society in the Gambia is primarily rural and its highly gender-stratified culture is very supportive of high fertility. Indeed the patrilineal descent, patrilocal residence, inheritance and succession practices and hierarchical relations have remained unchanged in this society. Low status of women, early marriage, extended family system and polygamy are the main driving forces of high fertility among the Soninke people. However, the desire for large family size is restricted by the practice of child-spacing achieved by traditional family planning methods, which are not effective and sometimes dangerous to the health of the women. Despite the free contraceptive services in the Gambia, contraceptive uptake is still low (9%). Low patronage for modern contraceptives is associated with the low status of women in this society. Therefore, the problem of high fertility in the Gambia, especially among the Soninke tribe should be considered from a sociocultural perspective if programs to ameliorate this critical problem are to achieve success.

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