Some facts about Niger
|Young child with SOS mother - photo: SOS Archives|
The Republic of Niger is a landlocked country that is situated in Western Africa. At present, the total population of Niger is 16.4 million .The capital of West Africa's largest nation is Niamey and the official language is French
Natural resources seem to be a curse in Niger: despite the country's oil and uranium depots, the majority of Nigeriens face a life in poverty. Just like in so many other African countries, the benefits of geological blessings fail to reach the local population. Niger heavily depends on foreign development assistance and the work of non-governmental organisations. Apart from uranium, the economy of Niger is centred on small-scale farming and livestock.
High levels of extreme poverty mark the lives of millions
About five times the size of the United Kingdom, the vast and arid Niger is a country heavily affected by extremely high levels of poverty. Around 70 per cent of its population are considered poor and development aid accounts for roughly half the country's total budget.
On average, the life of a Nigerien is not only full of hardship but also comparatively short as life expectancy in the country remains low at 52 years.
Although there has been some progress lately with regards to alphabetisation, only 29 per cent of Niger's population know how to read and write. Nearly 30 per cent of the population are undernourished.
During times of drought, millions find themselves on the brink of starvation. In 2005, thousands were starving to death as a result of locust invasions and an absence of desperately needed rainfall. In 2010, up to ten million people across the Sahel faced acute hunger, again with Niger being at the very centre of the crisis.
Due to high levels of poverty and a lack of infrastructure, hygiene conditions are often precarious. Although "urban poor" also exist, the majority of poor Nigerien's reside in rural or semi-rural areas of the country. More than half the country's rural population remains without access to drinking water, and only four per cent of Nigeriens in non-urban zones have access to decent sanitation facilities.
At a prevalence rate of only 0.8 per cent, HIV/AIDS does not affect Niger to the same extent as it affects many other African nations. However, as per 2009, an estimated 61,000 people were living with the disease.
Niger remains both a source- and destination country for human trafficking and thousands of people still live in conditions of servitude. Women and young girls are often taken to neighbouring countries, where they are exploited for commercial sex work.
Situation of the children in Niger
Demographically speaking, Niger is an extremely young country: around 50 per cent of the population are less than 14 years old. As usual, children represent the most vulnerable population group in such a poor country.
In Niger, 970,000 children are orphans. The under-five-mortality rate remains very high at 160 per 1,000 live births and the infant mortality rate is one of the highest in the world. In the Maradi and Zinder regions, around 350 children out of every 1,000 die before their fifth birthday.
|Young boy in the classroom - photo: SOS Archives|
No other country in the world surpasses Niger's fertility rate of 7.6 children born per woman. 27 per cent of all Nigerien children are born with low birth weight and around 40 per cent of all children under the age of five are underweight.
The high rates of undernourishment are mainly caused by a lack of access to age-appropriate food and even the most basic health services.
Thousands of children are involved in small-scale mining, primarily of uranium, tin and coal, where profits are traditionally low and the risks involved are high. Others risk their lives working in stone quarries. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), methods and conditions of work that children have to endure are comparable to those of the Middle Ages in Europe. Children are exposed to a number of risks such as injury from work-tools, scalding from hot water or burns from fire.
The mining activities often prevent children from attending school. Without an education, the vicious cycle of poverty is likely to continue once the working child becomes an adult.
Many Nigerien children are forced to beg, both within the borders of Niger as well as in Mali and Nigeria, by religious instructors known as marabouts.
Although the situation of women has improved over recent years, genital mutilation of girls is still widely practiced in the country.
SOS Children's Villages in Niger
The work of SOS Children's Villages in Niger began in the 1980s. In 1993, we started working on the outskirts of Niamey, the country's capital.
Our organisation has also been running SOS Family Strengthening Programmes, which initially came into being in order to help families affected by HIV/AIDS. Their aim is to enable children who are at risk of losing the care of their family to grow up in a loving family environment. To achieve this, SOS Children's Villages Niger works directly with families and communities to empower them to effectively protect and care for their children.
At present, our organisation is supporting Nigerien children in three different locations by providing day care, education and medical support. Children whose families cannot take care of them can find a loving home in one of the SOS families.