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At a glance: Niger

Real lives

Princess Mathilde’s visit to Niger raises awareness of gender issues

© UNICEF Niger/2004
Princess Mathilde visits with children in Niger.
At the end of her five day visit to Niger, Her Royal Highness, Princess Mathilde of Belgium said that education in general and girls’ education, in particular, constitute the best investment for the future of Niger.

She pledged her full support to UNICEF Belgium in their Girls’ Education campaign to

be launched in September 2004. 

UNICEF is working with the Government of Niger to increase primary school enrolment with a particular focus on girls’ education. Niger has seen an increase in girls’ enrolment rates (22 per cent to 36.5 per cent) from 1995 to 2003. 

Princess Mathilde, spouse of HRH Crown Prince Philippe of Belgium, was accompanied  on her journey by the Belgian Minister of Development Co-operation, Mr. Marc Verwilghen, the President of UNICEF Belgium, Mr. Marc van Boven, the Regional Director of UNICEF, Ms. Rima Salah, and UNICEF Representative in Niger, Mr. Karim Adjibade. 

Moving ahead in the fight against disease

During her visit, HRH Princess Mathilde met the President of Niger, the First Lady, the Prime Minister, Traditional Chiefs and Youth Parliamentarians to discuss issues related to the situation of women and children in Niger. The Princess also met children who are victims of polio, as poliomyelitis is a matter of great concern in Niger.

A massive immunization campaign  planned to reach over three million children will be launched by the President of Niger in Maradi region on Monday 23, February 2004. This campaign is part of the sub-regional synchronized National Immunization Days supported by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International and the Centre for Disease Control (CDC).

© UNICEF Niger/2004
Children in Niger spend time with the Princess.

A champion of girls and women everywhere

HRH Princess Mathilde visited a number of UNICEF and Belgian Development Co-operation projects in Niamey, Dosso, Maradi and Agadez, in particular those related to girls’ education. At each location, the Princess distributed education kits, which were airlifted to Niger.

For example, in Niamey, she visited the UNICEF-supported “Nyyaa” school for 40 sight impaired children, including 15 girls, where special education methods have been introduced.

She also traveled to Bougazaoua (Maradi),  a village of some 2,000 inhabitants, where there is a UNICEF’s integrated community development programme funded by the Belgian Development Co-operation, which includes basic health, water and sanitation, education and other services. 

The princess said she was impressed and moved by UNICEF’s work.

“I am a young mother and am profoundly touched by UNICEF’s campaign in Niger and in the rest of Africa and the world to guarantee access to education for all girls and boys,” declared the Princess.

 “It is very important, and I really want to support their efforts.  I want to call attention in particular to girls’ education. A girl who does not go to school will miss several opportunities during her lifetime. 

“She will be vulnerable to poverty and exploitation. She will not possess the knowledge needed to guarantee the future of her own children. Education and girls’ education is the best investment for the country’s future,” she said at the end of her visit to Bougazaoua.

© UNICEF Niger/2004
Princess Mathilde speaks to a young girl.
The importance of enrolment for all children

In Tassakin Tallan (12 km  south of Agadez), HRH Princess Mathilde visited a nomadic school where girls and boys of different ages attend school together whenever their families settle in the area for long periods.

More than half of Niger’s children are out of school and, among these, the vast majority are girls. Niger has the lowest female literacy rate in the world – 11 per cent and, even today, only one out of three Nigerien girls is in school.

Socio-cultural and religious beliefs and practices, including early marriage (half the girls in Niger are married before the age of 15), and practical issues, such as security and long distances between home and school, keep girls out of school. 

UNICEF Belgium has pledged to continue to support education in Niger for the next five years. This field visit allowed HRH Princess Mathilde to be one of the most effective UNICEF spokespersons for collecting the financial resources necessary for implementing programmes that benefit Niger’s children and women.



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