At a glance: Niger

UNICEF Niger works with chiefs to promote child survival and girls’ education

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Grand Chief Abdou Bala Marafa, one of Niger’s most influential traditional leaders, presides over the coronation of a new chief.

By Sabine Dolan

MARADI, Niger, 10 August 2007 – In southern Niger’s Tibiri region, a chief is being coronated. Presiding over the solemn ceremony is Grand Chief Abdou Bala Marafa, one of the country’s most influential traditional leaders.

In this land of extreme poverty and deeply rooted customs, UNICEF has worked with more than 200 such traditional chiefs to address issues of child protection, survival and development.

Islamic religious leaders and traditional chiefs have a tremendous influence over the daily lives of people here. Given Niger’s low literacy rates, they are key to spreading social messages that otherwise might be communicated by more conventional methods.

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UNICEF Niger Project Officer Mariama Mourima takes part in a village awareness campaign.

Status of women and children

On the day of the coronation, the Grand Chief travels to the nearby village of Fagagaou to help raise awareness about issues such as immunization, hygiene and HIV/AIDS, as well as early marriage and girls’ education.

“Today’s awareness campaign was geared towards the betterment of the living conditions of women and children,” UNICEF Niger Project Officer Mariama Mourima says after the session. Those conditions, she notes, are marked by several important challenges in Niger, including:

  • One of the world’s highest fertility rates, with an average of 7.7 children per woman
  • A high maternal mortality rate that places a woman’s lifetime risk of death in childbirth at 1 in 7
  • A wide gap between men and women in terms of health, education and literacy.
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© UNICEF video
In Niger, only 4 out of 10 girls are enrolled in primary school, 2 out of 10 attend secondary school and 3 out of 100 make it to high school.

Early marriage disrupts education

The education of boys and girls – disadvantaged girls in particular – has been a core aspect of UNICEF Niger’s fight against extreme poverty. The rights of women are typically limited in Niger, and that fact is reflected in their restricted access to education. 

According to UNICEF Niger, in the 2005-06 school year only 4 out of 10 girls were enrolled in primary school, just 2 out of 10 were enrolled in secondary school and a mere 3 out of 100 made it to high school. (Though overall enrolment rates are low, boys fare a bit better in Niger, with about 15 per cent more boys than girls enrolled in primary school and a wider gender gap in the higher grades.)

In addition, girls are sometimes promised for marriage as young as age nine, interrupting or abruptly ending their education. Banning early marriage is one key to promoting girls’ education.

To spread this and other critical messages to remote communities, Chief Marafa organized the Good Conduct Brigades, a group of specially trained men and women who travel from village to village imparting information to residents. UNICEF has provided the brigades with motorcycles to ease their movement across the difficult, desert terrain.

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© UNICEF video
When the afternoon’s awareness campaign comes to an end, small groups engage in lively discussions and village girls begin to dance.

Empowering young women

As the day comes to an end in the village of Fagagaou, the villagers break up into small groups to discuss some of the topics brought up by the awareness campaign.

“Today in the village, they talked about HIV/AIDS, birth registration as well as education – the education of boys as well as girls,” says Sahamatou, a mother who heads the village’s Women’s Association.

Night begins to fall and people gather around a music group for the evening’s festivities. Smiling girls begin a joyful dance near the musicians. Today’s awareness campaign will help empower these young women, making a difference in their lives.


 

 

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UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on a village awareness campaign in southern Niger to raise awareness about issues of child survival and development.
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