Friday, January 16, 2009

Turning marriage into business in Niger

The custom of marrying off daughters at a young age has turned into a perverse business practice in Niger. Now, businesses will sell the young bride to men from neighboring countries. The business will then give a portion of the money from the sale to the family. The families are often just selling their daughters in an attempt to escape poverty.

IRIN tells the story of the practice and what awaits the young bride once sold.

In a country with the world’s highest incidence of early marriage according to the UN, child rights activists say the phenomenon is changing in Niger from a village tradition to a cross- border business transaction.

Early and forced marriage in Niger has largely been confined to rural areas in the south, but according to the local non-profit Action Against The Use of Child Workers (AFETEN), families in the north are “selling” their daughters to men from neighbouring countries to lift themselves out of urban poverty.

The inhospitable desert north has some of the country’s highest rates of extreme poverty.

“It’s been going on since the 1990s, but recently it’s been getting a lot worse," AFETEN’s regional coordinator Moutari Mamane told IRIN. “Poverty is at the root of the problem, families are worse off now, with the food crisis and everything. These marriages are like sales, trafficking. It’s a form of prostitution.”


At the intersection of sub-Saharan and northern Africa, Niger’s mountainous desert north has long been a strategic zone for business and, increasingly, illegal immigration, according to authorities.

A phone company employee in the northern Niger business hub of Agadez who gave his name as Alassane told IRIN he has seen local businesses arranging marriages for men from neighbouring Nigeria or northern African countries. “They are like matrimonial agencies. There’s a guy who looks for the girls and sends clients their photo via the Internet. The men send gifts for the girl and then the fixer talks to the family to arrange the marriage.

“Unemployed parents sell their daughters to strangers…and most often the girls are minors and still in school,” he added.

According to local human rights organisations, Tuareg girls in urban areas are often targeted because of their beauty.

The more beautiful and young a girl is, the higher the price.

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