For the Tuareg of Niger, life is a constant struggle against the accumulating challenges of hunger and poverty. They live in a country which ranks lowest on the United Nations human development index - 187 out of 187 - and which has the world's highest birth rate. Niger also has one of the world's highest rates of child marriage. About 24% of girls will be married by the time they are 15. That rises to nearly 80% by the age of 18. It is a social phenomenon that affects all significant ethnic groups in Niger, including the majority Hausa community. The main reason is economic. Hard-pressed families receive a "bride price" in return for their daughter's hand in marriage. A girl married off is also one less mouth to feed. And there is a deep-rooted fear of unmarried teenaged girls falling pregnant, or as one mother put it: "They can easily become delinquents." 'No room for dreams'
The story of child marriage in Niger is rooted in poverty and the overall position of women in society. In the northern city of Agadez, we were told of marriages of Tuareg girls to wealthy men from neighbouring Nigeria where thousands of dollars were paid - the price varying according to the girl's beauty. One mother, Amina, who asked that her full name not be used, has a 15-year-old daughter. She is unemployed and separated from her husband, and described Niger as a place where "there is no room for women to dream dreams".
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