Despite the high rate of economic growth, more than 41% of Niger’s population still lives in a state of extreme poverty. A situation due to the population explosion in the country, according to the government, which has set up a population office with the aim of reducing the number of births. Decryption
It is one of the fastest growing populations in the world. In forty years, Niger’s population has grown from 4 million to 24 million, with an average birth rate now exceeding 7 children per woman. An issue taken very seriously by the government, which has just set up a “population office”. The new agency should make it possible to control rapid population growth, which “hinders family savings,” the presidency announced in late April.
To remedy this situation, the President, Mohammad Bajum, has promised to generalize the construction of boarding schools for young girls whose schooling will be fully supported by the state. The government has also launched an awareness campaign among traditional leaders to fight child marriage, which remains a national curse. According to UNICEF, 76% of girls are married off by their families before the age of 18, with 28% before the age of 15, often for economic reasons.
To take stock of the demographic situation in Niger and the government’s proposals in the region, France 24 spoke with Benoit Toulouse, a doctor at the University of Paris-Diderot, who specializes in geographic and demographic issues in West Africa.
France 24: Niger is not the only country in West Africa with high population growth. However, are there any specific facts that explain this birth rate? ?
Benoit Toulouse: As the government has pointed out, lack of education, especially for young girls, is certainly a major factor. There are villages in the country where there is no school for 5,000 or even 6,000 inhabitants. This situation is due to a very flawed or even completely absent schooling policy, but also due to the weak presence of NGOs. Mali and Burkina Faso, for example, have historically benefited from more tourism, more international support.
The immigration problem also plays a role. Unlike Mali, Niger does not have a large diaspora in France that contributes to local development and finances families back home in school. Another major reason is the extreme rurality of the country. The capital, Niamey, is much less developed than Ouagadougou or Bamako, which is a huge megalopolis. More than 80% of Nigerians live in rural areas. In neighboring Nigeria the figure is 48%.
After all, there is more poverty. Niger relies heavily on agriculture, accounting for 40% of its GDP. However, the sector is mainly focused on cattle farming, where most of the countries in the region are in favor of cereal production. This policy does not lead to food security for Nigerians, as opposed to the cultivation of fields that provide a means of livelihood for the population of neighboring countries.
The government has announced that the goal of creating a population office is to initiate population transformation. Can you explain this idea to us? ?
The demographic transformation that Niger wants to implement is in terms of improving the living conditions of the population, in terms of health and access to contraceptives, but also in the areas of food and education. In the short term, these transformations lead to population growth, due to the reduction in infant mortality, in particular, which is still very high in the country despite advances in medicine.
But in the medium to long term, this transformation allows young people, especially young girls, to better integrate into society and therefore reduce birth rates. Women who have access to the world of work are more independent, do not marry at such a young age and have fewer children. This is how the government wants to control the population.
For decades, successive Nigerian governments have sought to control birth rates, how to explain the lack of results. ? Does the current project have a chance to bear fruit? ?
There is no doubt that President Mohammad Bajum is a target for attacks on girls’ education. Numerous studies indicate that it is through women that we can effectively fight poverty. They look after the family but also manage the finances. For example, microfinance experience shows that they can save a lot more than men.
However, educating young girls is a big project in Niger that must be completed in the long run and requires a real commitment. Some families are reluctant, especially in rural areas where they need to help their daughters in the fields and fetch water from wells. The few professional opportunities available can be a stumbling block, even for graduates.
These systems also clash with traditional societies. In the countryside, a girl who has not yet married at the age of 14 brings shame to her family. Circumcision of women remains a very widespread practice that will be difficult to get rid of.
Despite everything, things are moving, even in rural areas. The advent of new technologies in rural areas, through cell phones, which were primarily used in the context of agriculture, now allows young people to be much more open to the world. With an average age of 15, the extreme youth of Niger’s population is certainly a problem for both the available workforce and access to hospital maternity services or education. But it also embodies the future of the country and he will change the mindset, in my opinion, much more than spreading government awareness.