‘I like the idea of getting married one day, but not yet’
In Niger, 76% of girls are married before their 18th birthday and 28% are married before the age of 15.
‘I'm not ready to get married yet. I'm interested in the idea and I even have a suitor. But first I prefer to dedicate myself to my future and my dreams of owning my own business. I want to open a boutique where women can buy textiles and clothes.’
Azima, 15, arrived in Niger in 2019 after fleeing violence in her birth country, Nigeria.
‘My daughter Azima was only able to go to the Koranic school when we lived in Nigeria. We had no means to support all of our children, ten in total. I wish all of them could go to school,’ says Rahila, Azima’s mom.
Hannatou is a refugee girl who has been integrated with a foster family in a village in Maradi, near the border between Niger and Nigeria. She is optimistic to start this new phase of her life. In the village she has made new friends, and though most of them are around her age, many already talk about marriage.
‘We took action to avoid the marriage of a 16-year-old friend in our village’. Mariama (left), 17, and Zeinabou, 18, (right) are part of a movement of young girls who protest against child marriage in Niger. They are part of the UNICEF-supported Child Protection Committee of their village in Maradi. As members they sensitize the other girls who are out-of-school and are at risk of being married as minors.
In 2019, they participated alongside another 14 adolescent girls in a participatory video workshop to exchange experiences, and to direct and produce a series of videos about the way they see their world, tell their own stories and shed light on challenges they face.
‘I believe marriage is a good thing. It can give stability and happiness if it comes at the right time. My mom wants me to get married soon because she thinks this is the best for me, but I told her that I want to go back to school, finish my studies, and maybe even become a teacher in Niger.’ Hannatou, 15, had to leave her home in Nigeria after attacks by armed groups in 2019. Now she lives with her family as refugees in Niger.
‘Many girls drop out of school in our village because when you have poor results you have to leave. Without an education, we don’t have many options’ says Roukaya, 15, from the Maradi region, Niger.
‘In my family, marriage is seen as a way to protect me and my other sisters. I am doing my best to stay in school, although it is not easy with the domestic responsibilities I have at home.’ Jemila, 13, attend the elementary school in her village in Maradi, Niger.
Many girls in Niger drop out of school, or are excluded, due to poor attendance, and performace, and an unsafe environment. This places them at a heightened risk of marrying young due to limited alternative options.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. Girls from the most vulnerable households are more likely to marry young than those in more affluent situations.
‘I want to live in a world where women feel safe and empowered.’ Women in Niger join forces against child marriage among the young girls in the villages of Maradi.
Child marriage is most prevalent in the villages of Maradi, Tahoua and Zinder. Girls as young as 10-years-old in some regions are married, and after the age of 25 only a handful of young women are unmarried.
A group of young girls out-of-school attended a month-long vocational training to learn about income generating activities for a healthier, safer and more empowered life transition.
UNICEF has led to important changes at national, regional and local levels, including supporting girls with life skills programming and vocational training, sensitizing religious leaders and community members to the dangers of child marriage.
In a poor neighborhood of Niamey, the capital of Niger, the dreams of a young girl are fed by a clear idea in an uncertain terrain: ‘playing football, even if I am a girl’ says Pascaline, 15. Despite the prevailing stereotypes and the social pressure these Nigerien girls are breaking down barriers every day.
The UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage is generously funded by the Governments of Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom and the European Union, and Zonta International.