NIAMEY , Jul 30 2013 (IPS) – For El Hadji Souley Moussa, a 60-year-old retired bank employee in Niger, “marrying off a daughter when she is young is a source of great pride. This way, she is protected from pregnancy outside of marriage.”
It is no wonder that a population and health survey conducted in 2012 by the Ministry of Public Health, and released this July, revealed that 75 percent of girls get married before the age of 18 in this Sahelien country of 16 million in West Africa. According to the study, young girls aged between 15 and 19 years are the most vulnerable.
In 2011 the United Nations Children’s Fund State of the World’s Children report ranked Niger first on its list of countries with a high prevalence of early marriages.
Yahaya Issa, a guidance counsellor at the Ministry of National Education, told IPS that parents who marry off their young daughters usually cite their religion as the reason.
“For us Muslims, marriage holds an important place in our lives,” Aminatou Abdou, 53, a housewife in Niamey told IPS. She married off her two daughters at the ages of 15 and 16. “It is unacceptable for Muslim daughters to have no husband after puberty.”
Not all Muslims share this view. “There is misinterpretation of the religion. Islam advocates social wellbeing. This is why I am against prematurely marrying off a daughter because this has bad implications for her health,” Malam Issa Dogo, a religious preacher, told IPS.
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