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Niger acknowledges its high birth rate is an impediment to its progress

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Pres. Mahamadou Isssoufou of Niger, seated left, in 2016

Pres. Mahamadou Isssoufou of Niger, seated left, in 2016

Niger’s high birth rate is an impediment to progress, the nation’s president has lamented in his speech marking the nation’s 57th Independence Day celebrations.

“Common sense compels us to reflect now on this future,” said President Mahamadou Issoufou, who added, “if we cannot educate, train and care for our youth and offer them employment opportunities, they will become a handicap, or even a menace to social cohesion and prosperity.”

Niger tops the global charts for the crude birth rate, defined as the number of birth per 1,000 people: it stands at 44.8, just beating neighboring Mali which has a birth rate of 44.40.

Niger also has the highest fertility rate, defined as the average number of children a woman is likely to have. As of 2016, the average Nigerien woman was likely to have more than 6 children.

The reasons for these high figures are various but often interconnected.

For one, Niger has the highest rate of child marriages globally, with 28% of girls married off before they are 15 years of age, and overall, 76% of children get married off by the time they are 18 years old.

Nigerien women (girls really) thus start having children at a much earlier age, and, with the prevalence of polygamy, there’s pressure to keep having children amongst co-wives as a means of showing their value.

Access to contraceptives is also quite a challenge, with only 12% of women having access to family planning treatment.

If left unchecked, it is estimated that the population of Niger will shoot from the current 18 million to 75 million by 2050.