Niger has the highest rate of child marriage in the world, with alarming statistics of 76% of women married before the age of 18 and 28% are married before age 15 (1). Though Niger is a signatory to many international child rights conventions including the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, Child prostitution and child pornography, the ECOWAS Child Policy and The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, implementation of these policies has been slow and little impact has been made.
Also, the tireless efforts of civil society organisations, networks and diverse groups of women to end this child abusive practise has also suffered severe setbacks due to the lack of capacity, ineffective advocacy and weak engagement strategies.
To this end, the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) in partnership with Girls-Not-Brides (GNB), and in collaboration with Care International-Niger, WilDAF-Niger, Coalition des Organisations Nigériennes des Droits de l’Enfant (CONIDE) and National Platform of CSOs to End Child Marriage in Niger organised a two-day national convening of civil society organisations including community-based organisations of women, national networks, women’s associations and international non-governmental organisations among others. These groups working to end child marriage discussed the status, prevailing challenges, strategies to foster collaboration among diverse national groups and steps to strengthen capacity.
The convening, which held from 4 to 5 September 2019 covered a wide range of issues ranging from the current state of child marriage in the country, the dangers of child marriage to the victims and examined some socio-cultural factors that fuel the practice. Opening the convening, Ms Omolara Balogun, Head of Policy Influencing and Advocacy Unit of WACSI, acknowledged the work all civil society groups and INGO partners in the fight against the child marriage.
She encouraged participants to take the two-day opportunity to reflect on the status of child marriage in Niger vis-à-vis drivers and years of civil society effort; identify policy gaps and effective means of engagement; as well as the capacity needs to strengthen partnerships, amplify collective voices and scale up the advocacy.
She said, “WACSI and partners are committed to following up this national convening with requisite capacity building programmes to ensure that groups present here are able to deliver on their mandates to continuously advocate against child marriage at both local and national levels in the country”
Mr Harouna Salé of Save-the-Children and Regina Baiden, Programme officer, Policy Influencing and Advocacy unit of WACSI noted that networking and knowledge sharing among CSOs are necessary for them to work together for the common good. Mr Salé shared the accomplishments, challenges and strategic plan of the National Platform of CSOs to End Child Marriage in Niger as a case in point.
Though, CSOs present admitted that deep-rooted cultural norms, poor synchronisation of efforts by government agencies and a lack of resources across the board remained a constant challenge, the convening ended with the acknowledgement that, working collectively as CSOs championing the same cause was sure to achieve positive results.
The National Platform of CSOs to End Child Marriage in Niger also agreed to decentralize its activities at the local level by working with the civil society actors present at the convening in order to reach high prevalent communities.
In Niger, child marriage is regrettably a cultural norm. It has stolen the lives of many innocent girls and continues to doom others to the same fate. WACSI hopes that through capacity building workshops, partnership building and convening like this one, civil society organisations will be more further encouraged to leverage on each other’s strength in the bid to scale-up their effort to end child marriage practice in Niger sooner than later. For more information, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
(1) Girls Not Brides, n.d. Niger-Child Marriage Around The World
(2) National Platform of CSOs to End Child Marriage in Niger