She is just eleven years old, she has yet to get her first period and already she is a wife. Adulthood is forced upon her. She is not prepared for this physically, mentally or emotionally. Her hopes and dreams of staying in school and getting an education is shattered. Her dreams does not matter nor does her happiness. Her parents have received a dowry and now she is married to a man older than her father. Still a child, afraid and confused knowing nothing about sex or marriage and the duties of a wife, she will be forced to have sexual intercourse with a grown man. She will suffer the agony of having her childhood stolen from her and suffer even more through pregnancy and childbirth and there is a possibility that she will die giving birth.
Stripped of her freedom she lives at the mercy of her husband and in-laws. She is often treated like a domestic slave, ill treated by her in-laws and raped by her husband if she resist his advances for sex. Her tears goes unnoticed, her eyes mirrors her pain. For her there is little hope, she has nothing to smile about, all she can do is try and endure the life that has been forced upon her. All of this seems like something from a movie, but it is not, it is real. It is the daily life of child brides around the world. In cultures of ignorance and poverty the children suffers. One such place is Niger
Niger has one of the highest rate of child marriages in the world; 75 percent of girls are married before the age eighteen and many are subjected to a life of domestic and sexual slavery. In Niger the problem is not just the fact that there are child brides but that some of these brides are in fact sold into slavery. ‘Wahaya’ is the term used for girls and women who are sold as fifth wives to men. In Niger men are allowed to have four legal wives and any number of fifth wives.
For these girls and women who are bought as fifth wives, no marriage ceremony takes place and girls do not benefit from any of the legal rights and protection that legal wives have. They are treated as domestic and sexual slaves but are still referred to as wives. They are used for free labor and sex by their masters who are mainly dignitaries or wealthy men.
The legal age for the marriage of a girl in Niger is fifteen years old but as the country struggles with severe drought, failing crops and mass starvation girls as young as seven years old are being sold as child brides. Parents have told activists that although they are unhappy about selling their daughters to men, the food situation have left them with no alternative. Families are using child marriage as a survival strategy to deal with food insecurity. Marrying off a daughter means one less mouth to feed and the dowry she brings in goes to feed the others. Fertility rate is high in Niger with the average household having at least seven children.
The practice of child marriage comes with serious consequences. It impacts negatively on the health of young girls. Having children at such a young age, they are at risk for fistulas (vaginal or anal rupture) which can lead to incontinence. Girls with fistulas are often abandoned by their husbands and scorned by society. The majority of child brides are denied an education. Only 15 percent of adult women in Niger are literate and less than one-third of girls are enrolled in schools.
For places like Niger change will only come when families understand that educating their daughters instead of marrying them off will be more beneficial in bringing economic growth to this starving nation. In a 2001 study UNICEF found that women with seven or more years of education marry an average four years later and have 2.2 fewer children than those with no education.
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) wants the age of marriage to be changed to eighteen years . It says this would give the girls longer time in school and give their bodies time to develop and allow them to reach adulthood. This move will also help to curb the birth rate which is the highest in the world.