Wednesday, 30 May 2012

#ShareNiger : Fatima

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the things that I saw out in Niger. Lots of people have asked me how I coped but it really isn't about me at all. 
I was there to meet women like me, mothers and to tell their stories in the hope that people start to listen and do their bit to help.

Women like Fatima Soumana.

#ShareNiger Fatima Soumana
Fatima arrived to our meeting on time with an eight year old boy in tow. Her unexpected charge had been found wandering down the main road to the city the night before and had been brought to her.
He'd been travelling with a nomadic religious group and had been left behind when they moved on. His parents weren't with the group, they had sent him away to gain his religious education. 
Of course the reality of that is a little different. These boys are pushed into begging and made to work. I guess that is a religious education of sorts.

Seeing this poor lost boy in front of me was heartbreaking.
He's lucky to have Fatima. She will care for him until his parents can be found and the situation is resolved but she won't just take care of him, she will educate him, love him, keep him safe and give him the security that an eight year old boy so desperately needs.

Boy currently in Fatima's care
As the government employed child protection officer for the Tera region, that's Fatima's job... but it's also her life. Known locally as the ‘Mother of the voiceless’, she's made it her mission to protect the children of Tera from violence, child labour and underage marriage and since 1994, that's exactly what she's been doing.

The legal age for marriage in Niger is 15 for girls and 16 for boys. It's a law that dates back to colonial times and it's regularly flouted. 
In reality girls are married off as young as seven years old. There are many reasons for early child marriage in Niger but the food crisis is making it worse. It's not difficult to see that one less mouth to feed would ease the burden on overstretched families.
Fatima recently saved a seven year old girl who was sold off as her family couldn't afford to feed her.
Its not an isolated incident in Niger.

When a girl is sold, her parents receive a dowry payment, this can be money or animals such as goats. There are many reasons for underage child marriage but culturally it's more prevalent in the Fulani and Tuareg tribes who will often have promised a child at birth.
My daughters are 8 and 10, they are little girls. The girls in Niger deserve to have a childhood, just like my girls do.

Girls like Fatima B.

In April this year, 12 year old Fatima was sold by her father to a man.
The price? Twenty goats. Her father needed the money to order to feed his two wives and ten children.

Sold for 20 goats
Famina B was sold by her father for the sum of 20 goats
Fatima said: 
"The first I heard I was going to be married was when the neighbours told me. I was really unhappy about it. What do I know about being a wife I’m just a child?
The person my father had sold me to was 20 years old and my cousin. Nobody told me about it, and I never discussed it with my mother or my grandmother but I planned to run away if it went ahead.
I heard on the radio that young girls are losing their lives when their parents marry them off, because they have children when they are far too young and may die in childbirth. I was very afraid that this would happen to me.
I don’t understand why my parents gave me away to be married so young but I would like to get married and have children when I grow up."

Fatima ran to the court house crying and asking for a divorce. The judge contacted Fatima Soumana and she pushed for the marriage to be annulled.

"I was so happy when the marriage was cancelled as it meant I can be a child again. I like to play dancing and clapping games with my friends.
I’d like to help other girls in the same situation as me as it is not good for girls to be married so young.
I’ve never been to school and I’ve been working since I was ten years old cleaning houses. I lived with my father and my stepmother but she made me do all the work in the house and didn’t treat me very well. I ran away and now live with my grandmother.
I worked cleaning a house for three years, the lady I worked for never paid me but at least she fed me. I swept the yard and fetched water and firewood.
I now live with my grandmother and work everyday cleaning for a lady. I earn 2,500 (£3) a month and give that money to my mother. I’ve never thought about what I would like to be when I grow up and it is not possible for me to go to school because if I did who would look after my grandmother?"

These words should not be coming from a 12 year old girl.

Early child marriage isn't talked about in Niger. Even the hypersensitive subject of female genital mutilation is more openly discussed and we need the media to break this taboo now.

But what does Fatima’s mother think about the situation?
She said: 
"I’m so pleased that this marriage was cancelled. I want my daughter to be able to choose the person that she marries and it should be somebody that she loves and who makes her happy.
What can a child bring to a marriage with a man? Children know nothing of the duties of marriage and having sex with a man is sometimes difficult even for an older women, how can a child be expected to do that? If a young girl gets pregnant it is difficult for them to give birth and often they get fistulas and then they are spoilt forever."

Today the British government has promised to match every £1 donated to the World Vision West Africa appeal with another £1 from their existing aid budget. 
We want to raise £5m to help the people of West Africa and this is a really positive step for the appeal. Every donation helps and if every working adult in the UK made a donation of just 17p we would raise £10m.

I would like to thank the guys we met out in Niger, Adamou, Amadou and Fatima. You guys have inspired me. x

Get angry and do something about it.

See my interview on CNN International news here.


  1. Thank goodness little Fatima had the courage to go to the courts and there was someone there to fight for her. It is scary thinking about the little girls we don't know about who are still stuck in such a situation :(

  2. Sian, it is your voice that has given children in Niger like Fatima a voice of their own - one that has now spread as far as CNN and beyond. Truly, well done and thank you.

  3. It is so scary to think there are others out there in this situation :(

  4. I can't believe this story. It's shocking. It's so amazing that you can tell their stories.


Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Appreciated as always. xx


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