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NIGER COUNTRY PROFILE ON CHILD MARRIAGES

Prevalence rate of Child Marriages in Niger 

According to the DHS Niger -MICS 2012 surveys, despite public and partner efforts, Niger has for the last 20 years reported the world’s highest child marriage rate at 76% (women aged 20-24 years married before 18), and up to 28% are married by the age of 15; similarly 6% of boys are married before 18 years. 

In Niger, the more educated girls are, the less exposed to child marriage they are than those uneducated, Additionally, the poorer the family is, the more likely girls are to be married young. Across all regions in Niger, Child marriage- women married before 18 years  ( ages 20-24 years and 30-34 years ) is highest in  rural regions than it is in urban regions :  Maradi at (89%), Zinder (87%), Diffa (82%) and Tahoua ( 76%); and the Hausa people have the highest rate of child marriage(refer to map on previous paragraph and graph below). 

In 2017, an ICRW/World Bank Study estimated that ending child marriage in Niger could boost the economy (gains and productivity) with more than USD 188 million.

What drives child marriages in Niger

Niger is the last-ranking country in the Human Development Index. More than 3.2 million people need humanitarian assistance due to food shortages. In addition, the situation in Niger has worsened in recent years, due to escalating violence that has spread across some West and Central African countries. Clashes between government forces and armed groups linked to ISIL and al-Qaeda compromised the education and health systems and forced thousands to flee their homes. This has led to increased rates of school dropouts and violence against women and girls, including child marriage.

In addition to the volatile security situation IN Niger, Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that women and girls are somehow inferior to men and boys. 

This harmful practice that derives girls of their rights to education, to good health, to a livelihood and a future is also exacerbated by: 

  • Cultural beliefs that child marriage protects girls against Violence caused by the ongoing conflict :  a 2018 Plan International study done in Niger’s most affected region by the Lake Chad Basin crisis – Diffa,  found  that Marriage is considered a protective measure for daughters against potential predators within the context of insecurity and widespread violence.
  • Poverty: Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. Food shortages, a harsh natural environment and frequent droughts drive some families to marry off their daughters to men of better means. Secondly girls are married off early as a strategy to reduce the financial burden of looking after them with a meagre family income (economic survival), and often times married off to settle family debts. Studies however have shown that child marriages still do occur in 51% of the rich households, partially disqualifying household wealth as a contributing factor to child marriages in Niger (Graph 3 below).  
  • Gender norms: 

In Niger, the community attaches a high value to marriage and accords a higher social status to women as wives and mothers and their role is considered within the household at the service of their husbands and children. Child brides are judged on how respectful and obedient they are, how well they care for their mother-in-law and how they treat their husbands. Some areas believe a girl should be married off before her first menstrual period and marriage at this point is seen as a protective measure for their virginity and dignity. 

Married girls are said to enjoy a certain level of respect within society they cannot achieve if unmarried, regardless of how successful they may become professionally.

  • Level of education:

In Niger, boy children are generally prioritised by families for education and skilling while girls are rendered to housework. This is evident in the 2015 UNICEF ICRW study that revealed that of women aged 20-24 years who were married before 18 years 84% of them had no education at all,  67%  of them had only primary education while  32% of these women had secondary education or higher. (Graph 2 below)

  • Customs and Religion: 

Certain Islamic associations and influential people are opposed to legislative changes that would offer greater protection against child marriage, based on religion and traditions. Many politicians and lawyers are themselves influenced by culture, norms, prejudices and taboos surrounding child marriage, and can be susceptible to the influence of religious pressure groups, limiting opportunities for legal and policy changes

Likewise specific Islamic interpretations are being used to justify child marriage in Niger and resist legislative and policy changes. Customary and Sharia (Islamic law) have a very strong influence in Niger, including in the process of marriage. Over 90% of Nigeriens are Muslim and the majority live in rural areas. Many families chose to marry their children under customary or religious law, in part because the girl’s age is not requested. Determining children’s ages is a major problem due to the paucity of birth registrations.

  • Family honour: 

The fear of dishonour from pregnancy outside of marriage is aggravated by the high levels of sexual violence against women and girls in the country. 

  • Rural context: Although child marriage rates are high throughout the country, 80% of women aged 20-24 reside in rural areas of Niger and they are particularly at risk of child marriage. 6% of women aged 20-24 living in rural areas were married by 18, compared to 43.5% in urban areas.
  • Polygamy: Child brides in Niger are most likely to be second, third or fourth wives, as younger brides are considered more attractive and obedient. The practice of wahaya involves the purchase of one or more girls, usually of slave descent, under the guise of a “fifth wife”. In Niger, a man can legally have up to four legal wives and then any number of “fifth wives”, who have a different status closer to that of a domestic and sexual slave. Many fifth wives have been trafficked as young girls from rural regions across West Africa to the houses of richer, older, urban males. This was highlighted as a form of slavery by the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery in 2015.

Legal Framework for Child Marriage in Niger

In Niger, Child marriage is addressed in family law, which is comprised by different sources: The Civil Code, customs and international legal instruments. This Civil Code initially set the minimum age of marriage for girls at 15 years and 18 years for boys, however this was amended to 21 years for both boys and girls (Civil Code, Art. 144, 148 and 158). Despite this, customary law is predominantly followed for unions and girls can be given up for marriage if their parents’ consent. There’s also paucity of legal actions and instruments that judges can invoke against marriage before legal action.

Niger’s Commitments to End Child Marriage

  • Niger is signed to the 2030 Sustainable Development goals which include Goal 5.3 that’s specific to Ending Child Marriages.
  • In 2014, Niger signed a joint statement at the Human Rights Council with an appeal for key resolutions to End Child Marriage (OHCHR, 2014).
  • In December 2014, Niger launched the African Union campaign to end child marriage on the theme of obstetric fistula. A First Ladies’ Forum on obstetric fistula was held in October 2017 in Niamey.
  • In 2016, Niger received Global Partner support to adopt a Family for the protection of girls through raising the minimum legal age to 18. 
  • In 2016, as part of a mobilisation effort for Nigerien and global actors, Niger’s Ministry for the Advancement of Women and Child Protection established a committee to coordinate national action to end child marriage.
  • In 2017, UNICEF strongly advocated to the government of Niger to intensify data generation, monitoring and use for child marriage, and ensure legal trainings for judges, prosecutors and the police in full litigation and prosecution of child marriage perpetrators. (UNICEF, Ending child marriage Niger, s.d.)
  • In November 2021: Niger hosted the 3rd African Girls Summit under the theme Culture, Human Rights and Accountability – Accelerating the End to Harmful Practices’. In his opening address, the country’s president H.E Mohamed Bazoum reiterated his governments renewed commitment to end child marriages through a concerted effort across all sectors and called on all partners to engage in this drive to achieve the SDG 5.3.1 by 2030. 

Recommendations

Despite ratifying the major global agreements on women and child protection, the enforcement and implementation of these conventions to protect girls from child marriage is unacceptably low. Combined efforts led by the government of Niger and partners are needed in addressing child marriages, low education levels among girls, teenage pregnancies and poverty, all of which are interlinked.

The following are a range of recommendations from different partners to fast-track the end of child marriages in Niger: 

  • Strengthen the national end child marriage committee especially in developing action plans and mobilizing the support of all key stakeholders (education, culture, health, religion, human rights, civil society, humanitarian, youth, women and girls’ and boys’ associations) in implementation of end child marriage campaigns.  
  • Establish a national end child marriage implementation plan that is operative, exhaustive, coordinated budgeted and inclusive, which equally includes strong communication on the obligation to comply with the traditional laws as set out in the Nigerien Constitution and Article 63 of the organic law on the judicial organization of the Republic of Niger.
  • Of pertinence is the empowerment of girls with information, education and skills on their rights and on overcoming this conservative culture that makes them victims of such practice. This may potentially reduce the practice If girls understand and demand to exercise their right to decide when and who they want to marry and have a choice to stay in and finish school. Girls need to empower to stand up and say no and fight for their freedom and independence.

Sources 

  1. World Bank Knowledge Repository 
  2. African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, [website], 2018, 
  3. African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, [website], 2018, 
  4. African Union, Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa: Call to Action, 2013
  5. Council of Foreign Relations, Boko Haram in Nigeria, [website],2020
  6. Council on Foreign Relations, Fragile States, Fragile Lives Child Marriage Amid Disaster and Conflict, 2014
  7. European Commission, Niger, [website], 2019
  8. Child Bride or Slave? The Girls In Niger Who Are Both,2012,  
  9. Girls Not Brides, Communiqué Du Forum Des Premières Dames de la CEDEAO, 2017,  
  10. Global Partnership for Education, Niger, [website], 
  11. Institut National de la Statistique et ICF International, Enquête Démographique et de Santé et à Indicateurs Multiples du Niger 2012, 2013, 
  12. Ministère de la Promotion de la Femme et de la Protection de l’Enfant, Direction de la Législation portant création, attributions, composition et fonctionnement d’un Cometé National de Coordination des Actions visant à mettre fin au mariage des enfants au Niger


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