Children in Niger: overview of the situation
The period from conception to the vulnerable adolescent years is a risky and challenging time for many children in Niger. The country has the world’s eleventh highest rate of mortality among children under the age of 5, a population that barely has access to proper sanitation, low school attendance and harmful practices like early marriage.
Niger is a youthful and predominantly rural country. Its population of 21.5 million is 50 per cent female, 80 per cent rural, and 58.2 per cent below the age of 18.
With close to half of Nigeriens living in poverty, the future prospects of many children are dim, and they risk becoming the next impoverished generation. About 48 per cent of children live under the monetary poverty line and 75 per cent of young children under the age of 5 are deprived from three or more essential social services.
The early years
The early years for children are especially vulnerable. Maternal mortality is high, with 1 in 187 women dying during pregnancy, childbirth or after delivery. Very high levels of acute and chronic malnutrition, low access to safe drinking water and high rates of open defecation threaten the survival of young children whose immune systems are still developing.
Although children are more likely to reach their fifth birthday today than 20 years ago, they continue to be causalities of easily preventable illnesses and conditions such as pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria and prematurity, and of poor access to healthcare.
The best investment for a child’s future is to invest in the early years of their lives, through education. But in Niger, many children miss out on this vital opportunity. Only 8 per cent are enrolled in pre-schools nationally, with large gaps between rural (4 per cent) and urban (28 per cent) children.
Birth registration – a key passport to protection for children – only reaches 6 out of 10 children in Niger.
As children enter their school years, they face an uphill struggle to learn. Though Niger has improved access to basic education considerably over the past 17 years, a fifth of children do not complete primary education and the majority does not complete lower secondary school.
Assessments have shown that most students (93 per cent) in primary grades 2 and 5 cannot read or do mathematics properly.
Adult literacy is very low – 14 per cent for women and 42 per cent for men.
Girls are less likely to go to school than boys, and children from the poorest homes are 1.6 times more likely to never attend school than the children from the wealthiest households.
The second decade of life
Adolescence is often paradoxical – a time both of risk and vulnerability, and of peak growth and potential. In Niger, children’s second decade of life is a challenging period.
Most children and teenagers are being raised in poor and vulnerable families and communities where abuse, exploitation and violence are rife. Harsh child discipline and domestic violence are common.
Adolescents and youth, particularly girls, face major constraints to fulfilling their potential: 76 per cent of girls are married before 18; 36 per cent of adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 have already given birth or are pregnant and only 26.9 per cent are literate, versus 50.2 per cent of boys. Access to secondary education is low, with only 31 per cent of girls and 42 per cent of boys enrolled.
Complex and multiple emergencies
Niger continues to face simultaneous emergencies that are stretching the capacities of the government and humanitarian partners to respond adequately. Children in Niger face malnutrition, recurrent disease epidemics and outbreaks, cyclical floods, drought and displacement. The situation is exacerbated by instability in neighboring countries, resulting in an influx of thousands of refugees, returnees and migrants, all needing access to basic social services for survival. The issue of migration has taken a new dimension with the evacuation of refugees and migrants from Libya to transit countries, including Niger.