Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Falling to Statistics

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Niger is the top of the list. And not in a good way. If you look at the list of all the countries in the world sorted by the birthrate among teenagers aged 15-19, Niger is at the TOP. Look closely and you will see that 74% of girls are married by the age of 18! And only 23% of the women are literate!
One of the reasons we remain a school for unmarried girls is we want to fight against this statistic. There are lots of other sewing schools or program for older women, but this is the only one we are aware of in Niger that focuses on young women and helps them to remain unmarried.
But why is this important?
Let me give you a few more statistics. 1 in every ten women who give birth in Niger will DIE in the process.
1 in every 4 children in this country is going to die before they reach the age of 5. I believe that if we have more educated mothers who could assess illness, keep their children safe and make nutritious meal choices, this number would decrease! But how can a young girl of just 15 be expected to know those things? She is still a child herself.
One of the things here in Niamey that makes me furious and weep in agony is the Tuaregs perception of their young women. I have had it explained to me by several different families that they believe it is in their best interest to marry off their daughters as early as possible. They strongly fear the shame that would come with an unwed pregnancy. This is a huge motivation for them. Add this to the bonus of one less mouth to feed and some money from her dowry and it looks hard to turn down right?
A parent who gave her name as Tounfana said that for her, early marriage avoids potential family dishonour. "I'd rather marry my daughters to whomever rather than to have them picking up unwanted pregnancies in the streets. Marriage is the “sunna' [practice] of the Prophet Mohamed. "
But I see a fatal flaw in their thinking that has devastating consequences on the self-worth of their daughters. One father told me “she (my daughter) is too old for me to force to stay in the courtyard and I can’t always tie her to the hut (no kidding!) so I need to marry her off quickly so she doesn’t get pregnant.” What in the world makes this man think that his daughter is a slut? (pardon my harsh language but it is the truth of their thinking). What is it that culturally or in their actions or history makes them think that every young woman is completely unable to contain herself sexually and will go run to the bed of a man the first chance she gets, so she is something to tie down and control? They also don’t trust the young men around them. They think all young men (including their own sons) are unable to control themselves and will force themselves on the young women. 
Seems to me there is a major lack of parenting there! I see so many of these beautiful young women we work with who are trying to make good decisions and whose family thinks they are floozies and untrustworthy and too enticing to be left to be a teenager. It is so rare to see a family who supports a young Tuareg girl to go to school past 3rd or 4th grade (if she even gets to go at all). They rarely ever get to make choices about their own marriages or wait until their bodies and spirits are ready to be wives and mothers. We know of two young women and we are supporting them through school and I will tell you about them in another blog, but they are by far the exception.  Most young women here never even get that choice.
The minimum legal age for a girl to marry in Niger is 15 years old.
A law has been proposed to change the legal marrying age to 18, but has yet to be adopted. But even were it to be adopted, a judge went on record saying customs often trump laws in Niger. "The problem with marriage in Niger is that it's governed by customs, which allow parents to marry their girls to whomever they want and at any age." 
"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."

2 of our girls were married off this summer. I am so sad to lose them now, each of them were good sewers and a joy to have in class. We had so much hope for them. And now their lives are suddenly different and they are a part of the statistic.
Rakiya Oumarou
Rakiya has always been a quiet young lady. She got married this summer just before her 17th birthday to an older man and she is now 3 months pregnant. Please pray for her and in light of the statistics, please pray for the health and safety of her and this unborn child. I pray she learned enough in the first year to help her make the transition to Mom and make good decisions for her family.
Rachida Djimba
Rachida is 19. She is one of our oldest and brightest girls. She worked so hard on her sewing. She came from a really hard family life where she was beaten often by a family member. Maybe her marriage this summer was a way to get out of the family house? She wanted to be a teacher of others and to pass on all that she learned. I miss seeing her in class and pray she has found a gentle, caring man who will love her and give her acceptance she never had at home. Please pray for her.

We are in a battle. I have no doubts about it and you are in it with us. We are battling against statistics that have stacked the odds against these girls. We are in a country that is  harsh and unforgiving and among the poorest in the world. We are fighting a battle against culturally imbedded traditions that have taught them they are worthless objects to be raised, mistrusted and married off when they hit puberty (or not long after).

So how do we teach these girls that they are loved, worthy, special and cherished by God, when their culture teaches them otherwise? Especially when their own families don’t believe it . I don’t have answers, but I know we are going to keep on trying.
Lord may you flood their hearts with grace and hope.


Steve said...

Keep up the great work Chantelle! Fight those stats!!!

Di said...

Grace and Hope indeed. My heart crys for these girls, and rejoices in the work you are doing. May you and your team have wisdom and unconditional love for them a you work with them, hear their stories and try to change what is so engrained. PRAYING here... Lord they are all yours....

Linda said...

Bless you! You're on the front lines. God knows, He sees, and He is right there with you, enabling you to fight the good fight. Be of good cheer.

The Lord bless you and keep you,

Linda said...

Bless you! You are fighting the battle right on the front lines! God knows, He sees, and He is right there beside you, enabling you to fight the good fight. Be of good cheer.

The Lord bless you and keep you!