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Running head: CHILD MARRIAGE

Child Marriage: The Causes, Implications and Solutions Specifically in Niger, Africa
Reagan Templeton
First Colonial High School
Legal Studies Academy
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Abstract

This paper will discuss the wide ranging effects of child marriage in Niger; including significant

adverse impacts to the health, education, economics, and politics of the region. The author will

evaluate the causes and solutions to the aforementioned implications of child marriage.

Additionally, the author will compare the laws of other countries and personal testimonies by

girls affected by child marriage in order to offer a better understanding of the topic.

Child Marriage: The Causes, Implications and Solutions Specifically in Niger, Africa

Worldwide, every two seconds, a young girl gets married before she is mentally and
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physically prepared or willing to do so. Contributing the most to this global statistic is Niger, a

country located in West Africa. Niger currently holds the highest percentage of child marriages

in the world. Child marriage in Niger threatens the safety and welfare of the young girls that fall

victim to it every year by forcing expectations on girls that are not ready for marriage (Brides,

n.d.).

History of Child Marriage in Niger

Child marriage encompasses any marriage in which one party is under the age of 18.

These marriages have included girls as young as seven years old. In 2012, one third of girls

experience what child marriage is first hand (McElroy, 2012). Recently, that statistic has

increased to three fourths. In some parts of Niger child marriage is even more likely than that

with 89 percent of girls marrying before age 18 (Machonesa, 2017). The most common

occurence of child marriage is between a young girl and an older man paying a dowry to receive

her as his wife. In fact, 76 percent of marriages are between a child under the age 18 and an

adult. Furthermore, 28 percent of marriages occur between an adult and a child under 15 (Girls

Not Brides, n.d.).

Causes of Child Marriage

Poverty

The poverty rate in Niger is 48.9 percent. This statistic shows that almost half the country

is in need of money and one of the most common ways to receive it is dowry. A dowry is any

valuable thing (money, livestock, etc.) that a man pays to the family of the girl he wishes to

marry. Dowries are required in order for a family to give their daughter away. Many families rely

on this dowry as a source of income, and with families wanting to get that money as soon as

possible, a girl is married the first chance she gets ("Overview," n.d.).
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Hunger

A girl's family might also use child marriage as a way to ensure their daughter gets food

and is taken care of by her husband when they lack the adequate resources that allow them to be

able to provide for her themselves. According to the World Food Programme:

More than 1.5 million people in Niger are affected by food insecurity in 2017. Another

1.5 million are estimated to be chronically food insecure, and millions more experience

transitory shortages during the lean season. Nearly 20 percent of the population cannot

meet their food needs because of factors such as inadequate production, security

constraints and demographic growth. This figure rises to nearly 30 percent during periods

of poor rainfall. In a context of widespread and entrenched gender inequality, food

insecurity affects women disproportionately, especially in rural areas ("Niger," 2017).

Protection

Astonishingly, 70 percent of women in Niger say they find it “normal” to endure

suffering in the form of beatings, rape, and emotional abuse. A girl is considered ¨off- limits¨

from public catcalls, rape, and harassment only once she is married (Niamey, 2007). Marriage

also lessens a girl’s chances of being one of many victims of mass kidnappings happening all

across Africa (Cowan, 2015).

Tradition

Girls in Niger are considered their parent’s property and expected to follow any

command their parents give them, marriage included (www.dw.com, n.d.). Marriage is

considered an honor to a bride´s family, and for many years it has been expected that a girl gets

married once she shows the first sign of maturity. Divorce or refusal to marry would bring
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embarrassment and dishonor to the family. Girls are told from a very young age that they will be

married once they reach maturity and they have no choice in the matter (Amber & Clark, 2008).

Implications

Health

Child marriage presents many health risks to the young girls involved both mentally and

physically. Most marriages are consummated right away, and with birth control being very rare,

pregnancy at a young age has extreme effects on a girls. Not only does early age pregnancy

endanger the girl carrying the baby, but it also endangers the baby itself. These pregnancies are

far more likely to result in premature babies and birth defects. Additionally, due to the lack of

medical care and resources in Niger, it is far more likely for a young girl to die during childbirth.

Damien McElroy stated that “According to a Save the Children survey of 165 countries released

this month, it is the worst place in the world to be a mother with a one in 16 risk of dying in

childbirth.” It is also likely she won’t know how to take care of a child or be mentally able to

handle all the responsibilities her marriage will bring (McElroy, 2012). Additionally, the

“protection” from rape, beatings, and harassment only extends to public instances and men other

than to whom a woman is married. A husband has right to treat his wife in any way he pleases.

Beatings have even gone as far as causing death, with no consequence for the man responsible

for the crime, often a husband (Niamey, 2007). Furthermore, if a girl decides she wants to escape

the cycle of child marriage and abuse by getting a divorce, she increases her risk of sexual

exploitation (Bradford, 2017).

Economy

When a girl is removed from school, the chance of her getting a job is slim to none.

Without a job she cannot make an income, and therefore, does not contribute to the economy.
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Not only does this have a negative impact on the girl, who has to financially rely completely on

her husband, but also for the country as a whole. Niger has an extremely high poverty and

unemployment rate which would easily improve if instead of marriage, girls continued an

education and went into the workforce ("Overview," n.d.).

Education

The average girl in Niger attends school for just four years (McElroy, 2012). The female

literacy rate in Niger is 11 percent. This is a result of girls not receiving an opportunity for

education ("Niger Literacy," 2017). When a girl doesn't get an education, she cannot get a job to

help support her family and has to help provide income through dowries given in exchange for

marriage. When a girl does stay in school, it is expected of her to leave her education to care for

her husband and his home once she is asked to do so.

If the cycle of child marriage is not broken, girls will continue to be taken out of school

in order to get married and put her focus solely on her husband's needs. Instead of being in a

classroom, these girls sit at home doing chores, raising children, and catering to her husband.

Without education, a bride’s options become extremely limited, and even in the rare cases a girl

is granted a divorce, she is left with nowhere to go, unable to work, and most likely shunned by

her family for dishonoring them (Ali & Minoui, 2010).

Population

Niger has one of the highest natural increase rates (rate of population increase) and is

classified in stage one on the country development scale. Stage one is defined as the least

developed of countries. A country having a high natural increase rate suggests the country also

has a high crude birth rate. There are several problems with a country having too high of a crude

birth rate. Firstly, it is unsustainable. As population continues to increase resources become


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unavailable. Secondly, it is unsupported. Stage one countries are also classified as not having

adequate health care systems and very high poverty rates, this makes it extremely difficult to

raise children without the risk of health concerns.

Family

Once a girl is married and living with her husband, she is considered committed solely to

him, and in some cases, she is completely removed from her family. Typically, once married, the

bride sees her family very rarely, sometimes never, and it is highly unlikely for her to have any

friends or interaction with other girls her age. This can stunt a girl’s mental growth as well as

evoke feelings of isolation (Ali & Minoui, 2010).

Laws in Niger

The legal age of marriage in Niger is currently 15. In September of 2017, a law was

proposed to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18; however, the law has not been put in place

yet (Machonesa, 2017). This marriage law affects the United states as well, interestingly,

marriage that legitimately takes place in Niger is accepted in the United States ("Marriage in

Niger," n.d.). Moreover, Niger is a member of the United Nations, therefore agreeing to abide by

the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in Article 16: “Marriage shall be

entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses” (United Nations, 1948).

Law Compared

Virginia

Officials do not want to get involved in child marriage because it creates opposition to

the laws. As seen in Virginia, once a law is proposed or even enacted, it is difficult to enforce the

law without opposition. In Virginia, Senator Jill Vogel enacted the first law to prevent child

marriage; however, it was not written the way she proposed it. The Virginia law now states a
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person has to be at least 16 years old to legally marry, but Senator Vogel proposed 18. Shortly

after proposing the new legislation, her colleagues fought to have the minimum age lowered due

to their belief that the law interfered with a family’s personal choices (J. Vogel, Personal

communication, October 24, 2017).

New York

For years child marriage has been a problem in New York, knowing immediate action

was needed a campaign was launched to encourage the passing of a bill proposing an increase in

the minimum age of marriage. A video demonstrating the realities of child marriage was played

in front of thousands in Times Square (Werft, 2017). Finally, thanks to the efforts of many, on

June 20, 2017 New York outlawed child marriage. The official age of consent for marriage in

New York is now 18 (Carothers, 2017).

India

The laws in India state a minimum age of 18 is required for marriage; however, India still

obtains a high percentage of girls involved in child marriage. In efforts to shrink the high

percentage, the supreme court of India ruled that any case of sex with a minor, even when that

minor is married, would be considered rape (Meixer, 2017).

Florida

At just 11 years old Sherry Johnson was forced to marry her 20 year old rapist.

According to Florida’s law a person cannot marry under the age of 18, however, there are many

exceptions to this law. With the consent of parents, a girl as young as 16 can obtain and marriage

license, and when a pregnancy is involved, there is no required age at all. In fact, within 6 years

72 children under the age of 16 were married in Florida. This law brings up major controversy

because in the United States sex with a minor is considered to be statutory rape, so it would be
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impossible for a girl to legally consent to sex and marriage with a man who got her pregnant

when she was under 16 years old (Press, 2017).

Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, a minimum age was put in place and ignored. The government chose not

to enforce the law because of the extreme opposition they would encounter due to marriage

being a strong tradition and necessity in their country. Finally, instead of encouraging education

and teaching communities about the dangers of child marriage, a law was passed in May of 2017

to legalize child marriage (Guha, 2017).

Court Cases

There is a direct correlation between child marriage and crime. Not only because child

marriage itself is illegal, but because brides are beginning to fight back in the only way they

believe they can: violence. In Nigeria, a country bordering Niger, there has been several cases of

child brides being convicted for the murder of their husband. These cases bring up controversy

because in Nigeria, child marriage has been prohibited for over a decade. The question becomes

whether or not these children deserve to be convicted if they themselves are victims merely

acting in self defense. For example, the case of Wasila Tasi’u goes as followed:

Wasila Tasi’u is 14 but has been in a prison in Gezawa, outside the city of Kano, for the

last five months. She too faces the death penalty for allegedly murdering her 35-year-old

husband, Umar Sani, and three others at her own wedding party.

Soon after she was arrested, Tasi’u told her lawyer Hussaina Ibrahim that she had been

tied to the bed and raped by Sani on their wedding night. When she appeared in Gezawa

high court for the first time back in the autumn, she could barely say her own name,
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turning her back to the court when the charges were read, breaking down in tears (Clarke,

2015).

This case along with many others serve as an example of just how serious the

consequences of child marriage are.

Testimonies

Nujood Ali

In 2008 Nujood Ali filed for divorce at age 10. She had been married to a man in Yemen,

just like her sisters and mother had done before her. After being physically and mentally abused,

she ran to a courthouse for help. The judges in charge of her case were shocked to hear about her

story, and it soon got media coverage as well as inspire an international selling book that would

raise awareness about child marriage across the globe. However, before the fame, the official

divorce left Nujood with nowhere to go. Her family was disappointed by the break in tradition

and they were left with no money or educational opportunities. Officials in Yemen found the

situation to be a direct violation of her rights and they did what they could to help. Because she

stood up to her husband and family, she gained immense support as well as help others around

her (Ali & Minoui, 2010).

Rekha Kalindi

At age 10 Rekha Kalindi decided to go against her parents wishes and say no to an

arranged marriage. Thanks to a UNICEF program that came to inform girls in her village in

India, she was aware of her rights and knew she and other girls could refuse child marriage.

After deciding against marriage, she wrote a memoir and performed for her school, inspiring

thousands of young girls in her same situation (Curry, 2016).

Rukhmabai
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Rukhhambai was married at the age of 11 with the promise that she would not have to

live with her husband until she felt ready to do so. She decided that despite being married, she

wanted to continue her education and for three years her parents allowed her to do so. When

Rukhambai was 14, her husband requested that she live with him and put an end to her

schooling. Rukhambai refused his request and was taken to court with the possible consequence

of imprisonment. Eventually the trial led to an agreement between them, and the husband

received money for a divorce. With freedom from marriage, Rukhambai turned back to

education and became India's first female doctor (Curry, 2016).

Solutions

Organizations

Several organizations working to spread awareness about, prevent, and end child

marriage include: Girls Not Brides, Global Citizen, Breakthrough, CARE, and World Vision, all

helping to encourage access to education in the countries that need it most (Olsen, 2013). These

philanthropies rely greatly on donations to continue their work, an easy solution to child

marriage is simply to encourage the efforts of those working to advocate for the rights of the

women and children involved.

Individuals

Individuals have a great impact on the choices young girls make. As previously

mentioned, women such as Nujood Ali serve as role models to young girls facing similar

situations. When one girl stands up to forced marriage, many follow. It is important to continue

to shine light on their stories; books, media coverage, and supporting these role models provides

inspiration to thousands of girls looking for a way out (Osakinle, 2015).

Education
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Education is the key to ending child marriage. It has been statistically shown that the

longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to get married at a young age. Improving access

to education would allow girls the opportunity to become independent, not needed to rely on a

husband to take care of her. In addition to accessible education, once a child is in school it is

important they have the means to stay in school. Government funded secondary school would

greatly improve the likelihood of a girl will be able to use her education in the future to get a job

or teach her own children (Osakinle, 2015).

Policy Change and Enforcement

The United Nations has created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in an effort to

encourage countries around the globe to implement rights-based legislation. In some cases, such

as India, the efforts of the United Nations have paid of and child marriage has been outlawed

(Meixer, 2017). However, some countries still struggle with opposition to ending forced

marriages. Bangladesh, for instance, legalized child marriage in 2017 after the government

noticed high percentages of illegal marriage in their country, and rather than enforce their

existing law, they chose to legalize marriage of any age in order to avoid conflict (Guha, 2017).

This goes to show that while policy change legally can end child marriage by raising the

minimum age of marriage, it makes no effect on the rates of underage marriages if not enforced.

Governments should be aware that child marriage is a human rights issue as well as an

economical issue. Girls who choose education rather than marriage have more of an opportunity

to get a job and contribute to the economics of a country. Not only that but child marriage

violates the rights of the girls involved, submitting them to sexual and physical abuse and

ignoring their own right to make choices. Raising the minimum age of marriage in countries that
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do not currently have it set at the age of 18, as well as enforcing the minimum age would help a

country’s development greatly.

Conclusion

Child marriage, caused by poverty, traditional views and lack of access to education

comes with negative consequences for not only everyone involved with the practice but for

countries allowing it. Implications include many health risks, economic downfalls, unsustainable

populations, and family problems. However, this ethical issue is one that can be solved by

supporting individuals and groups working to make change, encouraging policy change and

enforcement and promoting better access to education.

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