Getting all girls into school and ending child marriage is the goal for Niger

Published on 12 April 2018View original

With fewer than one in 10 girls completing secondary school, the country's president has promised free and compulsory education for everyone up to the age of 16.

Three-quarters of the people living in Niger are under the age of 25. That's an incredible statistic - and a huge challenge for a country where the population doubles every two decades.

But Niger's President Issoufou Mahamadou sees this as an opportunity, not a burden.

"We must educate, train, care for and create jobs for young Nigeriens," he said.

"We are focusing on education, particularly for girls, in order to keep them in school for as long as possible and end underage marriages and pregnancies."

President Mahamadou's comments came after he joined other presidents, prime ministers and top officials from 44 countries that signed an agreement last month to create the African Continental Free Trade Area.

Niger has one of the world's highest birth rates - with each woman in the West African nation having an average of more than seven children.

But fewer than one in 10 Nigerien girls completes secondary school and a third don't even enrol in primary education. Sadly, that means three-quarters of the female population aged between 15 and 24 are illiterate.

The United Nations' Education Index, which compares the expected years of schooling to the average years citizens actually attend school, puts Niger last among 187 countries.

Against this backdrop, President Mahamadou recently promised to provide free and compulsory schooling for every child up to the age of 16. He also pledged to develop higher education opportunities.

He said Niger would aim to end early and forced marriages, and put the education and literacy of girls and young women high on the agenda.

In an interview with African Business Magazine, the president said: "We have a programme and we are following it. The demographics of our country are not a handicap - on the contrary it is an opportunity if we make good use of it."

France said in December it will contribute about $18 million to help more girls in Niger get access to education.

Meeting President Issoufou in the capital Niamey, French President Emmanuel Macron said: “It is important for the young people to be trained in their own country, have the means to take care of their family and build a future there."

The European Commission has also been helping education in Niger. Its support programme for education - which amounts to $95 million from 2016 to 2019 - helps the efforts of Niger's government to improve equal access, quality and governance in education.