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Niger

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
28%
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
76%
International Ranking*

1

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

Photo credit: UN | Marco Dormino

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
28%
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
76%
International Ranking*

1

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?

76% of girls in Niger are married before their 18th birthday and 28% are married before the age of 15.

According to UNICEF, Niger has the highest prevalence rate of child marriage in the world and the 14th highest absolute number of child brides – 676,000.

Child marriage is most prevalent in Maradi, Tahoua and Zinder. Girls as young as 10 years in some regions are married, and after the age of 25 only a handful of young women are unmarried.

A 2017 World Bank study suggests that ending child marriage in Niger could save the country more than USD25 billion by 2030.

Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?

Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that women and girls are somehow inferior to men and boys. In Niger, child marriage is also driven by:

  • Poverty: Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. Girls from the poorest households are more likely to marry young than those in the richest households. According to UNICEF, Niger’s harsh natural environment and frequent droughts drives some families to marry off their daughters to men of wealth as a survival tactic, and in the hope of increasing their economic and social prosperity.
  • Polygamy: Child brides in Niger are most likely to be second, third or fourth wives, as younger brides are considered more attractive and obedient. The practice of wahaya involves the purchase of one or more girls, usually of slave descent, under the guise of a fifth wife. Many fifth wives have been trafficked as young girls from rural regions across West Africa to the houses of richer, older, urban males. This has been highlighted as a form of slavery by the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery.
  • Family honour: In certain areas, including rural Marake, some people reportedly believe that girls should be married before their first period, as bloodstained clothing may be perceived as loss of virginity which brings shame to families. Child marriage is seen to protect a girl’s dignity and preserve her virginity.
  • Social status: Married girls are said to enjoy a certain level of respect within society that cannot not achieved if unmarried, regardless of how successful she may become professionally.
  • Gender norms: The primary role of girls in Niger is to become wives and mothers. They have little say in decisions that affect them, both on the lead up to and during marriages. Child brides are judged on how respectful and obedient they are, how well they care for their mother-in-law and how they treat their husbands.
  • Level of education: Many girls drop out of school, or are excluded, due to poor results and an unsafe environment. This places them at heightened risk of marrying young due to limited alternative options.

What has this country committed to?

Niger has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. In its 2018 National Voluntary Review at the High Level Political Forum (the mechanism through which countries report progress in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals), Niger reported on some of the changes in rates of child marriage and legislative reforms related to the legal age of marriage.

In 2014, Niger signed a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.

Niger ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1999, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.

Niger is a focus country of the UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, a multi-donor, multi-stakeholder programme working across 12 countries over four years.

In 2014 Niger launched the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage under the theme “Obstetric fistula: Zero tolerance!”

In 1999 Niger ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage.

In 2004 Niger signed, but has not yet ratified, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, including Article 6 which sets the minimum age for marriage as 18.

As a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Niger has adopted the Strategic Framework for Strengthening National Child Protection Systems under which protecting children from marriage is a priority.

During its 2017 review, the CEDAW Committee raised concerns about displaced girls who are at risk of child marriage. It recommended that the government collect data on incidences of child marriage, specifically criminalise the practice of wahaya, provide training for judges, prosecutors and the police to ensure perpetrators of child marriage are effectively punished, and develop and implement a national plan of action to combat child marriage.

During Niger’s 2016 Universal Periodic Review, concerns were raised about persistently high rates of child marriage and insufficient protection of migrants and refugees from smugglers and human traffickers. Niger supported recommendations to adopt a Family Law to protect girls from child marriage, increase the minimum legal age for marriage to 18 and implement a comprehensive strategy to eliminate the practice.

What is the government doing to address this at the national level?

Gender and child marriage issues remain a taboo and are highly politicised in Niger. Many initiatives taken to end the practice are blocked by specific social groups or religious leaders.

As of June 2018, the government is in the process of developing Niger’s first National Action Plan to End Child Marriage.

The National Strategy on Prevention of Adolescent Pregnancies calls for a reduction in child marriages from 76.3% in 2012 to 60% in 2020.

A National Action Plan on the Promotion of Interventions for Adolescents (2016-2019) was launched in February 2015 and covers issues of child marriage and other harmful traditional practices.

In 2017, Niger hosted a First Ladies Forum on child marriage which was attended by First Ladies from West African states.

In August 2016, the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and Child Protection established a national committee to coordinate actions (“le Comité National de Coordination des Actions) designed to end child marriage in Niger.

The UNFPA programme Action for Adolescent Girls was launched in 2013 and works with the government to tackle the causes and effects of child marriage. The programme provides married and unmarried girls with life skills, sexual and reproductive health information and birth certificates.
Under the Civil Code 1993 the minimum legal age of marriage is 15 years for girls and 18 years for boys. However minors can be married before those ages with parental consent, and the President may grant age exemptions for serious reasons.

However it is worth noting that the majority of unions take place under customary law.

What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?

Under the Civil Code 1993 the minimum legal age of marriage is 15 years for girls and 18 years for boys. However minors can be married before those ages with parental consent, and the President may grant age exemptions for serious reasons.

However it is worth noting that the majority of unions take place under customary law.

Source

African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, [website], 2018, (accessed February 2018)

African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, [website], 2018, (accessed February 2018)

African Union, Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa: Call to Action, 2013, (accessed February 2018)

Council on Foreign Relations, Fragile States, Fragile Lives Child Marriage Amid Disaster and Conflict, 2014, (accessed May 2018)

Ford Foundation, Child Marriage in West Africa, 2013, (accessed May 2018)

Human Rights Council, Thirteenth Session, Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, Urmila Bhoola, 2015, [unpubslished]

Institut National de la Statistique et ICF International, Enquête Démographique et de Santé et à Indicateurs Multiples du Niger 2012, 2013, (accessed May 2018)

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Joint statement on child, early and forced marriage, HRC 27, Agenda Item 3, [website], 2014, (accessed April 2018)

Plan International, Family honour and shattered dreams: child brides in Mali, Niger and Senegal, 2013, (accessed May 2018)

Save the Children, Child marriage in Niger, 2017, (accessed June 2018)

UNFPA, Action for Adolescent Girls, Programme Document, 2014, (accessed May 2018)

UNICEF-UNFPA, Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, 2017, (accessed February 2018)

UN CEDAW, Concluding observations on the combined third and fourth periodic reports of the Niger, 2017, p.3, p.4, (accessed May 2018)

UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Niger, 2016, p.9, p.17, (accessed May 2018)

United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, (accessed February 2018)

World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women, Economic Impacts of Child Marriage: Global Synthesis Brief, 2017, (accessed May 2018)

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)