Posted by contributor Andres Santamaria.
A recent Washington Post article by Sudarsan Raghavan reports about the abundance of teenage girls getting married as a result of food shortages in Niger. Nearly one of two girls gets married before the age of 15 in hopes of exchanging dowries to provide much needed food and financial support for family members.
Traditional, tribal ways of life, which allow practices such as early marriages, holds more weight than Niger’s government, which has banned marriages before age 15. Despite these efforts, many families sneak their children off to be married because they are in desperate need of resources. Often, parents feel they are doing what is best for these young girls, marrying them off to affluent families. In other instances, the girls are simply seen as commodities and sold off to settle debts.
And as Niger’s population increases, food shortages only help to intensify any national setbacks within the country.
“The average woman here has more than seven children, the highest fertility rate in the world. Half the population, which is expected to grow from more than 17 million today to about 59 million in 2050, is younger than 15. As in many parts of the continent, Niger — which has shrinking arable land, scarce rainfall and low levels of education — will be in perpetual crisis if rapid population growth is not slowed down, many experts predict.”
According to Raghavan, “Save the Children recently declared Niger the worst place in the world to be a mother, replacing Afghanistan…Young mothers are trapped in a ‘vicious cycle’ in which they give birth to ‘underweight babies who have not been adequately nourished in the womb.’”
Unless something is done to balance the food crisis and the exponentially increasing population, Niger will not be escaping out of its own “vicious cycle” anytime soon.