The impact of migration, hunger and drought on gender-based violence in Niger
Bachira smiling in her village of Mazagna in Niger. Save the Children.
In Mazagna, a village about 100km from Zinder in Niger, the whole community awaits with excitement the visit of Save the Children staff.
In the village, the "Harmatan’’ season has not started yet, but we were feeling the dry and dusty wind already hitting our faces, and so was Mabarouka, a young 18-year-old girl. She was married a year earlier when she was 17. Her husband migrated to Libya leaving her and her 2 sons without anything to eat. Mabarouka had no choice but to leave school to take care of her mother and sons.
"I went to school for four years, then my mother fell ill. I was forced to leave school to take care of her and my two sons. Here, because of the drought, the harvest can barely feed a family of four. The luckiest people manage to feed themselves with the harvest for three or four months, but we barely manage for two months. My husband left for Libya more than a year ago. He spent almost two years in Libya, and when he came back he spent two months without finding a job. The main issue we are now facing with our children is the lack of food and clothing"
We heard similar stories from five other girls in the same village. Among them, Bachira’s story was particularly shocking. When she was only 15 years old she was forced to leave her family and migrate in search for a better life.
"I had to leave my village because of the lack of food, to go to Agadez. My father had no fields of his own, so he also decided to migrate to Libya. In Agadez, I started working and after four days I decided to quit because I was abused. The lady I was working for spent her time insulting me, so I had to leave her house before the worst could happen’’
Like Mabarouka and Bachira, hundreds of young girls in Niger continue to leave school, get married very young, and travel long distances in search for food to survive.
An intersection of challenges affecting girls
Limited access to food, jobs and income can put women and girls at increased risk of gender-based violence and negative coping mechanisms. Negative coping mechanisms include child marriage and sexual exploitation in exchange for essentials like food, even when women and girls are seeking help from places that give out free food for those in need. This was revealed in our latest Girlhood Report: Girls on the Frontline, launched on International Day of the Girl.
The impact of conflict in combination with the rising cost of living is contributing to general economic hardship in communities in Niger, which is being worsened even further by the impact of the climate emergency and COVID-19. All of these challenges are affecting girls’ welfare.
These “four C’s” as we called them in our report, are driving the worst global hunger crisis in more than a decade. As a result, child marriage is already increasing as families are having to rely on negative coping mechanisms to be able to put food on the table.
Niger is a clear example of how these challenges are impacting girls and communities. This central Sahel country has the highest child marriage rate in the world - 76%, meaning more than 3 in 4 girls in Niger are married before their 18th birthday. Without urgent progress, by 2050 more than half of the world’s child brides will be African.
Mabarouka in her village of Mazagna, Niger. Save the Children.
Giving them Hope
In Mazagna, Save the Children Niger is implementing a four-year project, the "KARIYA" project. Kariya means protection. This project aims to improve the quality of case management for children on the move at state level as well as at a community level through an integrated and adapted protection and mental health and psychosocial support approach.
It is not enough to raise awareness about the negative effects and girls’ rights. When child marriage or other forms of GBV are used as negative comping mechanisms, we also have to provide alternative and more positive coping strategies and solutions to the underlying problems communities face.
In Zinder, the main driver of child marriage is the a combination of hunger, climate change, poverty and the effects it has on school drop-out and child labour. This project supports girls and their families deal with the “four C’s” in a better way through an integrated approach.
Thanks to "KARIYA’’, children like Mabarouka and Bachira have received a package of services including: basic psychological support (BPS); legal assistance; tracing of parents; accompaniment to return to their family and to return to school; advice and sensitization to parents on fundamental rights of children; enrolment of the child in vocational training; food assistance and access to socio-recreational and recreational activities.
“I would really like to be able to raise livestock or learn to sew in order to provide food and clothes for my family. I would like my children to go to school to learn and provide for our needs’’ said Mabarouka.
For the next 3 years KARIYA will extend its activities to all girls in Mazagna with the simple objective of supporting children and girls like Mabarouka and Bachira to live better lives.
Interested in learning more about our work to end child marriage? Visit our page here.