Zahara's story was kindly shared by UNICEF who supports Zahara and her family in Niger. Special thanks goes to Shushan Mebrahtu, communication specialist at UNICEF Niger, who originally wrote this piece.
In the small village of Madarounfa, in eastern Niger, Sani Barmo, 81, and his second wife Hadisa Abdou, 40, were preparing for their daughter Zahara’s wedding. She is 12 and a half years old.
The groom-to-be’s family sent presents, including clothing, jewellery, perfume and money, to Zahara for accepting their son’s proposal. The in-laws had also paid Zahara’s parents FCFA 130,000 (approximately US$245) in dowry. The two families had set a wedding date, and Mr. and Mrs. Barmo were making arrangements for the ceremony.
Niger has the highest rate of child marriage in the world. One in three girls is married before the age of 15, and 75 per cent of women aged 20 to 24 are married before age 18.
Zahara left school when she was 9, and she never returned. The only future Mr. Barmo saw for his daughter was to marry her off.
“Zahara was not performing well on her studies despite all the money I spent on uniforms and school supplies, so I had to take her out of school,” said Mr. Barmo. “When four boys approached Zahara, I decided to get her married.”
While preparations were underway for Zahara’s wedding, the chief of Madarounfa was made aware of the case by community members. The chief immediately passed the information on to local court officials.
A few days later, Mr. Barmo and Zahara appeared in court. The judge told Mr. Barmo that his decision to marry off Zahara at 12 years old was not only a violation of her rights – and the law – but also would compromise her health, development and future.
I am happy that this marriage is cancelled because I want a better future for Zahara.Zahara's father
“The judge told me if I marry Zahara off before she is old enough to bear a child, I can lose my daughter and my grandchild or Zahara can be exposed to serious health risks such as obstetric fistula,” said Mr. Barmo. “The judge and I discussed in detail the dangers of early motherhood, including the psychological and the mental damage it entails. And I am happy that this marriage is cancelled because I want a better future for Zahara.”
In the time it has taken to read this article 26 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds