Ending child marriage in Niger
HE Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade & Development Cooperation of The Netherlands wrapped up her visit to Niger, where she had the opportunity to appreciate the impact of the “UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage”
With the support of the Government of The Netherlands, UNICEF works across sectors to support strategies that address child marriage, working in the development of laws and policies to strengthen systems which make enforcing child marriage prohibition more feasible. We also work with communities to address the social norms that allow child marriage to perpetuate.
"We will continue to support Niger to accelerate efforts to end child marriage, and create more opportunities for adolescent girls to fulfill their full potential"
HE Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of The Netherlands
All girls and boys have the right to a childhood where they can play, rest and be protected from harm, abuse and exploitation. But for thousands of children in Niger, childhood is cut short by marriage. UNICEF estimates that around 3 in 4 young girls were married before the age of 18, and 1 in 4 before the age of 15. Poverty is a major driver of child marriage in Niger, bringing with it the hope of economic prosperity and an increase in social status for both girls and their parents.
Upholding social and religious traditions, the fear of dishonour from pregnancy outside of marriage is also a major driver. The link between education and the prevalence of child marriage is particularly evident in Niger: 81% of women aged 20-24 with no education and 63% with only primary education were married or in union at age 18, compared to only 17% of women with secondary education or higher. Married girls and child mothers have limited power to make decisions, are generally less able to earn income, and are vulnerable to multiple health risks, violence, abuse and exploitation.
The Niger Government, as a result of the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme’s advocacy and engagement efforts, has developed a multisector national action plan to end child marriage and adopted a decree for the protection of the girl-child in school to guarantee access and retention until age 16. The programme also provided support towards the finalization and dissemination of the National Strategic Plan on Adolescent and Youth Health 2017−2021, and the National Gender Policy and Action Plan.
The programme supported the establishment of a multistakeholder collaboration platform, ‘Towards the End of Child Marriage in Niger’, which convenes every month. The platform is used to compile information about ongoing actions, harmonize key messages and rally stakeholders to advocate for better legislation in favour of the rights of adolescents.
Religious and traditional leaders are respected figures in their communities, often prescribing which behaviours are acceptable. Seeing how powerful their voices can be, UNICEF partnered with the Niger Traditional Leaders Association and the Islamic Congregation - called Faouzia to help promote positive change in the communities with the aim at ending child marriage and promoting key family practices. Traditional and religious leaders regularly carried out community dialogues and organize village-wide assemblies using their leadership roles to tackle this harmful practice.
The Niger UNFPA-UNICEF programme continued to reinforce community-based child protection mechanisms that are effective in addressing social norms. The programme supported the Government in expanding the network of Village Child Protection Committees to promote positive practices in communities targeted by the programme. Education sessions by the Village Child Protection Committees were able to prevent cases of child marriage through direct mediation with parents and assisted girls to return to school. Through community dialogue and engagement, villages made public declarations for the abandonment of the child marriage practice.
Equipping young girls to better know themselves, their world and their options can diminish their social and economic isolation. Life skills education teaches girls to be more assertive and self-confident, and therefore more able to act and advocate for themselves in the short and long term. When girls have more self-esteem and are seen as having value in society, they are more likely to aspire to jobs and enterprises as alternatives to marriage. They will also be viewed differently by parents and community members, making it unacceptable to marry them at young ages.
In Niger, the UNFPA-UNICEF global programme provides girls with comprehensive knowledge related to reproductive health personal hygiene; gender-based violence; financial skills; gender issues and girls’ personal aspirations. The initiative also aims to strengthen girls’ social competencies to help them express themselves, make their own decisions and fully participate within their community. The programme provided support to hundreds of Local School Action Plans aimed at supporting girls’ education.
Immediate economic opportunities provide an acceptable alternative to marriage and increase the value and contribution of the daughter to her parental family. This reduces both the economic and social pressure to marry a daughter early.
The UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage promotes the rights of adolescent girls to avert marriage and pregnancy, and enables them to achieve their aspirations through education and alternative pathways. The Global Programme supports households in demonstrating positive attitudes, empowers girls to direct their own futures, and strengthens the services that allow them to do so. It also addresses the underlying conditions that sustain child marriage, advocating for laws and policies that protect girls' rights while highlighting the importance of using robust data to inform such policies.
The Global Programme is generously supported by the Governments of Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom and the European Union, as well as Zonta International.