Despite recent advances in the areas of health and education, the situation for children in Niger remains very fragile. High rates of poverty and food insecurity are a cause of both chronic and acute malnutrition: 41% of children under 5 are underweight and 46% stunted (UNICEF/WHO). Particularly vulnerable are street children and those from poor families. The rate of primary school completion stands at 40% (World Bank, 2009). For girls the situation is particularly precarious: for every 1000 adolescent girls (age 15-19), there are 199 births annually (UNICEF), the median age at first marriage for girls is the lowest in the world, at 15.5 years old (Enquête Démographique et de Santé Niger, 2006) and 68% of adolescent girls believe being hit/beaten by a husband is justified under certain circumstances (UNICEF).
Harmful traditional practices:
Talibé, or children (primarily boys) who are sent away to study the Quran, are often mistreated and exploited. Part of their training includes begging for alms on the street in order to pay for their studies and meals. These children are extremely exposed and often exploited by their teachers.
Adolescent marriage is very common in Niger, with 75% of girls married before their 18th birthday (UNICEF). This violation of their rights denies them of many opportunities and exposes adolescent girls to abuse and dangerous, early pregnancies.
Children without appropriate care and children on the move:
Both boys and girls are often sent away from their families to work or study. While many of these children are fostered in relatives’ homes, these children are often exposed to exploitation, physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Particularly exposed to abuse are street children/talibé, handicapped children and young girls sent to other towns/cities to work.
Emergency situations and children:
Chronic nutritional and repeated food emergencies (most recently in 2005 and 2010) have exposed up to half the Nigerian population, and children in particular, to hunger, malnutrition and disease. In addition, food insecurity leads to forced migrations from affected communities, disrupting children’s education and exposing them to abandonment or trafficking.
Child labour is a common and accepted part of Nigerian society. According to UNICEF, 43% of children participate in child labour. This includes both domestic and economic labour. Boys often participate in farming activities, while girls are primarily occupied with domestic work. Both sexes are exposed to labour in the form of apprentices or ‘helpers’, working in the informal market for adults to whom they may or may not be related.
There is no official outlawing of corporal punishment in schools, homes or institutions. The hitting or beating of children at home and school is considered to be a normal and acceptable form of discipline. The vast majority of children are, at some point, victims of corporal punishment.
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