By: James Addis
Children are dropping out of school and may be at higher risk of being sold into early marriages as desperate families struggle to get food in drought-stricken areas of Niger.
An estimated 16,000 children in the northwest Tillabéry region alone have dropped out of school in order to find work to help support their families.
Many are expected to head to towns where they become vulnerable to abuse and sex trafficking.
Fatima Soumana, a government child protection specialist working alongside World Vision in Tillabéry, says she recently rescued a girl of 7 who had been sold off for marriage because her family could no longer afford to feed her.
The case came to light when Fatima was helping a woman register a birth at a local courthouse. She was accompanied by the 7-year-old.
“When I asked who she was, the [woman] told me she was her daughter-in-law,” Fatima says.
“I realized that the young girl had been sold to the family and married off to their 20-year-old son.”
Esperance Klugan, World Vision’s national director for Niger, says marrying off a daughter is a terrible decision for a parent, but it often means one less mouth to feed.
“There are many reasons people give for early child marriage, but the food crisis appears to be making it worse,” she says.
Child marriage is already a serious concern in Niger. A survey conducted in 2007 showed almost 40 percent of girls are married before the age of 15 — the second highest figure in the world .
About 18 million people in West Africa are facing food shortages following poor rains and disappointing harvests. The figure includes 1 million children suffering from severe malnutrition .
World Vision has extensive relief programs in Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Senegal, and Chad designed to reach more than 1 million people.
Activities include child nutrition programs, food distribution, well drilling, distribution of seeds, provision of livestock, and establishment of vegetable gardens with advanced irrigation techniques.
Originally posted on World Vision Blog