Gambian lawmakers have voted to uphold a ban on skin bleaching following a heated debate in parliament, state media reports.

The attorney general presented the bill on the prohibition of skin bleaching for consideration, according to a list of business in parliament posted on Twitter.

He argued that criminalising people for using cosmetic products was an unfair punishment, the AFP news agency reports.

But lawmakers were in favour of maintaining the ban.

“The chemicals used in the production of skin-bleaching creams is hazardous to human health,” Momodou Camara, an MP, was quoted as saying by AFP.

The West African country banned skin bleaching in 1996 during the rule of Yahya Jammeh – who was in power for more than 20 years.

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