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Children on the Frontline

Most Brides in Niger Are Children

In Niger, 75 percent of girls get married before the age of 18. Credit: Etrenard/CC By 2.0

NIAMEY , Jul 30 2013 (IPS) - For El Hadji Souley Moussa, a 60-year-old retired bank employee in Niger, “marrying off a daughter when she is young is a source of great pride. This way, she is protected from pregnancy outside of marriage.”

It is no wonder that a population and health survey conducted in 2012 by the Ministry of Public Health, and released this July, revealed that 75 percent of girls get married before the age of 18 in this Sahelien country of 16 million in West Africa. According to the study, young girls aged between 15 and 19 years are the most vulnerable.

In 2011 the United Nations Children’s Fund State of the World’s Children report ranked Niger first on its list of countries with a high prevalence of early marriages.

“Socio-cultural pressures, particularly the desire to have a child before the first marriage anniversary often forces the young girl to prove her fertility a few months after marriage.” -- sociologist Salissou Habou

Yahaya Issa, a guidance counsellor at the Ministry of National Education, told IPS that parents who marry off their young daughters usually cite their religion as the reason.

“For us Muslims, marriage holds an important place in our lives,” Aminatou Abdou, 53, a housewife in Niamey told IPS.  She married off her two daughters at the ages of 15 and 16. “It is unacceptable for Muslim daughters to have no husband after puberty.”

Not all Muslims share this view. “There is misinterpretation of the religion. Islam advocates social wellbeing. This is why I am against prematurely marrying off a daughter because this has bad implications for her health,” Malam Issa Dogo, a religious preacher, told IPS.

“Those who marry off their daughters early do so because of ignorance. Islam is a religion which is against lack of knowledge,” he added.

According to Abdou Sani, an anthropology doctorate student at the University of Abidjan, people use religion as a false pretext. The real reasons for these early marriages are ignorance and poverty, he said. “In most cases, these young girls are married off to older people who are financially well-off or have a high social status,” he told IPS.

Early marriages result in early pregancies, which compromises the girls’ future as many do not go to school once they are of marriageable age. Medical sources indicate that 40 percent of young brides fall pregnant a few months after marriage.

“Socio-cultural pressures, particularly the desire to have a child before the first marriage anniversary often forces the young girl to prove her fertility a few months after marriage,” Salissou Habou, a sociologist in Niamey, Niger’s capital, told IPS.

According to 2011 statistics from the Ministry of Public Health, teenagers make up 19 percent of women of reproductive age and contribute 14 percent to the total female fertility in this country.

“Less than 40 percent of teenagers go for antenatal care,” Hadjara Tinni, a midwife based in Niamey, told IPS.

According to Tinni, because young girls fall pregnant before their bodies are mature, they are twice as likely to die during childbirth than women who over the age of 20.

According to the Ministry of Public Health’s 2011 survey, the rate of maternal mortality in Niger is 554 deaths per 100,000 live births – among the highest in the world. Teenagers account for 13 percent of these deaths.

“Survivors often suffer from illnesses such as obstetric fistula,” Hassan Idrissa, another midwife in Niamey told IPS. In April 2013, out of 163 obstetric fistula victims counted in the country’s six healthcare centres, 80 percent were married before the age of 18, the Ministry of Public Health stated.

“We must educate and keep young girls at school in order to put an end to this situation,” urged Hadiza Issoufou, a teacher and member of the Nigerien Association for the Defence of Human Rights.

However, the draft law drawn up in 2002 setting the minimum age for marriage at 18 is still being opposed by religious associations.

“The situation of teenage girls is a major concern, but unfortunately a large segment of the population is ignorant about the problem,” declared Dr. Makibi Dandobi, Nigerien population minister on World Population Day on Jul. 11.

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  • activist09

    Worldwide, more than two million women
    suffer from a childbirth injury caused by lack of nutrition and early
    marriage. In Ethiopia, some 100,000 girls and women suffer from
    obstetric fistula and there are 9,000 new cases each year. An obstetric
    fistula is an opening between the bladder and/or rectum and the vagina,
    which can occur during childbirth. The contractions, which often last
    for days, constantly press the baby’s head against its mother’s pelvis,
    causing damage. Through the hole that results, the woman continuously
    leaks urine or feces. Age-old traditions force girls to marry at a very
    young age. They become pregnant so young that they cannot properly bear
    their baby because their pelvis isn’t yet fully grown. The baby dies and
    the young mother is left with a fistula. These girls and women are
    often banished from their families and communities. Since 1974,
    operations have taken place at the Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa. The
    hospital was founded by an Australian couple, Catherine Hamlin and her
    husband. This documentary tells the story of a young Ethiopian woman,
    Yezina, victim of having a fistula. Her husband did not abandon her but
    he sells his ox to cure her.

  • wordscanhelp

    Malam Dogo is a wise and compassionate man – wish he had more influence over the religious organisations that are opposing the draft law

  • Dee Baig

    First of all thanks Souleymane for throwing light on such a grave issue! Factually speaking people really use religion as a false pretext. They get their daughters married in an early age for other reasons: poverty is the main reason. Secondly, let me ask a question. Why we always blame education for everything when the whole system needs to be amended? Let’s take example of West Africa where a girl is entangled in the web of traditions. A girl gets education there, she knows everything but still in the end she has to sacrifice because of the so called honor of her family, traditions etc, in this scenario how we can blame education?? We have hundreds of examples when they are executed in these systems when they try to rebel. I don’t know when and how it will change.

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