Why have four children when you could have seven? Family planning in Niger

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With “the worlds” highest birthrate, Nigers population is set to double in 17 years. NGOs are rendering contraception, but what if females want more babes?

Roukaya Hamani has an in-law problem. Her husbands mothers want more grandbabies, but she doesnt want any more infants right now. Shes already devoted birth four times; one of the babes died, and so now she has three, ages seven, five, and 16 months. Shes 18 years old.

I only pray to God to bless those three babes I have, she mentions. The local health centre in her village of Darey Maliki offered her free contraception, which they get partly from the NGO Pathfinder, but Hamani declined. Maybe[ my in-laws] would tell my husband to marry another woman to have more babes, she mentions. If they want me to have another maternity, I can do it just for them to feel happy.

Hamani, a smiley, gap-toothed girl in a long orangey-brown headscarf worn in the popular style here tight around her face and then flowing down to the knee, over a bright printed dress never went to school, and got married when she was 10 and her husband was 20. He works in the fields and she keeps the home, waking up at dawning every day. Why dont I want to have another? she mentions. Because has become a mom is not easy work.

Hamanis life is in many ways illustrative for women in rural Niger, where she lives in a small village of mud-brick houses lining sand-dust roads. Girls here get married young, usually as teenagers, and have their first child at 18. Polygamy is legal and commonplace, especially in the rural areas where about 80% of the population resides. More than half of daughters dont complete primary school, and fewer than one in ten attend secondary school as a result, less than a one-quarter of the status of women here are literate. Women have an average of more than seven infants apiece, the highest in “the worlds”. And they face a one-in-2 3 opportunity of succumbing from maternity or childbirth.

But Hamani is unusual in that three babes are enough for her. Despite having the highest fertility rate in “the worlds”, women and men alike in Niger say they want more infants than we are really have women want an average of nine, while men say they want 11.

Birth rates as high as Nigers contribute to rapid population growth. The countrys population exploded from 3.5 million people in 1960 to virtually 20 million today, with half of the current population under the age of 15. The overwhelming majority 80% of Nigeriens live in poverty. The landlocked nation is largely desert, less than 20% of the land is arable, and that number is diminishing due to climate change. At current growth rates, the population is set to doubled in 17 years. This, experts tell, drives poverty, famine, political instability, and violence.

When you have a huge number of young people who are jobless, they have no choice but to immigrate, mentions Hassane Atamo, the department chief for family planning at the Niger ministry of health , noting that large numbers of young men go to nearby Ghana, Nigeria or Ivory Coast attempting run. They may also shall be divided into crime, or integrate into terrorism. The country is facing this problem as well, with the Boko Haram issue they are recruiting jobless young people.

To combat the health a matter that come with high birth rates as well as the burden many young and out-of-work people place on a fragile economy and vulnerable security situation, the Nigerien government has turned to the solution: modern contraception. What they havent figured out, though, is how to get females to use it.

This is a time bomb, because all the Sahel is in this situation, and especially with climate change, the food supply will be less abundant than before, mentions John May, a visiting intellectual at the Population Reference Bureau. Its a huge crisis.

In a jam-packed room at a health clinic in Magama, a town in Nigers Tillaberi region, 60 -odd females cram side by side, each with a child or two in tow, to hear Aboubacar Gousmane talking here family planning. Gousmane, an expressive, charismatic employee of Marie Stopes International, a world reproductive health organisation that does family planning work at this clinic, stands in front of a desk with a choice kit packed full of sample contraceptives.

Family scheming is about inducing space between your children, Gousmane tells the group as newborn holler. We know our communities are poor. If we have many babes, we make it harder for ourselves. Thats why we say you should space pregnancies. Contraceptives at this clinic, he tells the women, are free.

Currently, Marie Stopes Internationals family planning work on this clinic provide funding for USAid. Last year, they served virtually 30,000 clients. But since it is an international organisation that supports liberalising abortion laws and offer elective abortions in other countries where the procedure is legally let( in Niger, abortion is largely prohibited) it is going to lose its US funding thanks the global gag rule put into place by President Trump. Presidents from the organisation say they are hopeful that private donors and more sympathetic governments will fill the gap, but that it will be a substantial blow.

Marie
Marie Stopes International healthcare workers counsel females about contraceptive alternatives. Photo: Jill Filipovic

In front of an attentive all-female audience, Gousmane goes through each contraceptive method, holding up samples a T-shaped IUD, a needle with a little bottle of Depo-Provera, two white matchstick-sized implants, a slinky girl condom and explains how theyre use and how long they last. Its not for you to stop pregnancies or stop delivering babes, he mentions. Its so you can deliver healthy babes and your torso can make another baby.

Many working in development say that to prevent a series of catastrophes environmental, economic, security women in Niger need to have smaller families. But unless females want their families to be smaller, theres no reason to think the fertility rate reduced in anytime soon.

In Niamey, Nigers capital city, the world health organisation PSI sends outreach employees to meet with women and talking here family planning. This is how 30 -year-old Hadiza Idrissa ended up in the front yard of Mohammadou Rabi, a 39 -year-old mother of four, her mane folded under a gold scarf, a month-old baby in her lap.

Idrissa is helping Rabi figure out what kind of contraceptive to use, indicating her samples and explaining the benefits of each one. Rabi asks if the IUD might fall out, or if the implant might break in her arm. Idrissa answers patiently( no and no ); when Rabi says she isnt sure what to picking and be asking Idrissa to choose for her, Idrissa mentions: Its up to you to choose a technique. We only explain how the methods run. She asks Rabi if she wants to come back in a few days, so you can have a little time to reflect on what the hell are you want. What Rabi wants is a breach before having more infants, ideally two or three more. I like to attain the Muslim community grow, she says.

Nigers population challenges are compounded by the prevalence of a conservative straining of Islam, which encourages adherents to have as many children as possible. Any organisation implemented in order to threw contraceptives into the hands of the status of women has the dilemma of doing so in a way that doesnt provoke religious backlash. Political presidents, too, have elections to worry about, and dont want to cross influential clergymen by pushing the population issue.

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Women gather below a neem tree in village representatives outside of Dongondoutchi to hear Moundadou Magagi, a health agent with PSI, explain family planning alternatives. Photo: Jill Filipovic

Some females feel that having more babes dedicates them a break in their difficult lives. In the villages the days are an endless cycle of hard physical labor from the time youre an adolescent( or younger) until you become too old to work.

I genuinely dont have period for amusement, mentions Hamsatou Issaka, a fairly 15 -year-old who lives in a village several hours from the nearest metropoli of Dosso. I only run all day. Then you sleep. She nurses her one-year-old son, Habibou. The thing I like in motherhood, she mentions, a big smile breaking across her face, is dedicating my child his bath and playing with him. A new child also means a 40 -day break from the usual demanding physical labour and another few years of child baths and laughters breaking up the monotony of tilling the earth and pounding the millet.

Issaka gratified her husband, a lanky young man with a wide smile and easy laugh, when she was 12 and he was 15; they got married soon thereafter. All of her friends are married “of childrens and” she cant see going into her 20 s without a husband and children. Having lots of children is the norm since they are bring wealth( they come with two hands to work but simply one mouth to feed ). So why have four when you could have seven? Seven, one of Issakas neighbours mentions pointedly, is a bigger number than four.

A big family size is a cultural ideal in Niger in a similar way that in the US or UK, a romantic relationship is a cultural ideal, mentions Hope Neighbor, a partner at consulting firm the Camber Collective, which has researched increasing contraceptive use in the country. We need to be more thoughtful in how we transmit family size and longings, she mentions. This doesnt mean you tell people they need to have smaller families. It means reframing how they think about families, because it creates tremendous hazard to the mother, and tremendous hazard to the fragile surrounding in Niger.

This is why, many experts tell, Niger needs a strong campaign for girls education. If we want to bring change, “were supposed to” bring young girls to school, mentions Laouali Assiatou, the deputy secretary general of the ministry of population, promotion of women, and protection of children.

Child marriage, Assiatou notes, going to happen to vulnerable families. Most of the time the girl is in school but the mothers pull her out. She is going to be violated. She cant speak for herself. She will be pregnant early. Shes in her husbands home, she has no fund. Shes not mature enough to deliver and health services are not very are set out in our country. Shes going to have a difficult pregnancy. She can die, or she can deliver a stillborn, or she can end up with a fistula and be rejected by society. The end outcome, she said, is that keeping daughters out of school keeps the community in a cycle of poverty.

Despite presumptions, studies havent demonstrated a correlation between polygamy and family size. Nigerien women in polygamous matrimonies have about the same number of children as women in monogamous ones. But some womens health proponents “re saying that” polygamy contributes to the norm-setting of big families and amalgamation of male power in private households, with a potential second wife wielded as a threat to a married woman who doesnt want more babies.

Mariama Hassan, who has lived in Darey Maliki village her whole life, got married at 18, late by village criteria. As she breastfeeds her daughter, Ramatou, she mentions she wants to see her child girl finish school, and eventually get married as well but not until shes 25. I want her to be a doctor, Hassan mentions. I tell 25 because I want her to be mature before getting married, and I want her to finish her studies.

Her hopes for her own life are different. In my lifetime, I want to have what God decides for me, she mentions. What does that intend in terms of children? She smiles and laughs. I hope God gives me 12.

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