Programme aims to end child marriage in Niger by 2050
Niger has some of the highest child marriage rates in the world. One in three girls is married before the age of 15 – and three-quarters of women aged 20 to 24 say they were wed by their 18th birthday.
But there is real hope that the practice could be abolished by the year 2050, thanks to a campaign by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Action for Adolescent Girls was launched in Niger two years ago and works with partners, including the country's government, to tackle the causes and effects of child marriage.
And now Monique Clesca, UNFPA Representative in Niger, says she is hopeful of wiping out early marriage over the next 35 years.
She told MediaGlobalNews: “By carrying out strategic development and empowerment training, and by collectively engaging the community leaders and grassroots people, the UNFPA is foreseeing a future where child marriages would be completely abolished by the year 2050.
More than 1550 girls in remote areas of Niger participated in the first eight-month cycle of the programme.
UNFPA said: “Local women were recruited and trained to serve as mentors to the girls. Weekly mentoring sessions were held in ‘safe spaces’, where participants would feel comfortable sharing stories and challenges from their daily lives.
“Through the sessions, the girls learned about their rights, and they learned that child marriage is a violation of these rights. They also learned about hygiene and sexual and reproductive health. Participants additionally received lessons in literacy, numeracy and financial literacy.”
There has been an increase in contraceptive use, from 19% to 34%, among married participants. Only 2% of unmarried girls were married by the end of the programme.
Action for Adolescent Girls will soon be scaled up in Niger, reaching 8000 girls in seven of the country’s eight regions. The programme is also being piloted or scaled up in Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Zambia.
UNFPA has also started an initiaive in Niger called The Husbands School, where husbands, single men and fathers learn about health issues surrounding child marriage.
Ms Clesca said: “Husbands tend to be the main obstacle for women in getting proper healthcare in a majority of cases. With the husbands being schooled, we are seeing a tremendous change in the attitude of men. Now, girls tell us that the husbands themselves willingly take them to healthcare centres. The men are waking up.”
Child marriage targets are part of the #EducationCountdown. You can find out more about them here.