Delaying Child Marriage in the World’s Most Afflicted Country: Evaluating Whether or Not Ethiopia’s ‘Berhane Hewan’ Intervention Program Could Be Replicated with Success in Niger

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2020-11-25

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Abstract

Niger has the highest child marriage prevalence rate in the world, with 76% of girls married by 18, and 28% of girls married by 15. Although Niger’s government has made stated, policy, and legal commitments to eliminate the practice, and non-profit organisations are researching and conducting work to fight against child marriage in Niger, there continues to be a lack of significant improvement on this issue. By comparison, Ethiopia has seen a substantial reduction in its child marriage prevalence rate in recent decades due to the success of various intervention programs – notably, the Berhane Hewan program in the rural Amhara region. Indeed, UNICEF reported in 2018 that the percentage of girls married by 18 in Ethiopia dropped substantially, from 47% to 25%, over the last decade (Clark, 2019). In the search for an impactful, sustainable, and cost-effective intervention program that could be implemented in Niger, we can look to Berhane Hewan as a potential example.

This study uses open-ended qualitative interviews, both over the phone and over email, of nine research and program experts on child marriage to ascertain the extent to which Berhane Hewan might feasibly be replicated with success in Niger. While recognising that intervention programs must be tailored to the particular nature of child marriage in different local contexts, this paper finds that the various programmatic arms employed by the Berhane Hewan program are likely to be strategically successful in reducing, or delaying, child marriage in Niger. This is because, among other contextual similarities to Ethiopia, child marriage in Niger is driven strongly by a lack of access to education, as well as by traditional gender norms and patriarchal values. For example, to the latter point, married women possess little household decision-making power in both countries, and unmarried girls are likely to have even less self-agency: in Niger, only 3.5% of married women are the principal decisionmaker of their own health, and in Ethiopia during the Berhane Hewan program, this measure stood at only 14.6% (Niger DHS, 2012 & Ethiopia DHS, 2005). Despite these similarities, however, Niger experiences funding and military conflict challenges that are likely to mean that, in the short-term, only certain arms of the program will be cost-effective, and certain areas may not be able to sustain the program. In addition, the current legislative landscape may prove a barrier to sustainable, long-term change.

Accordingly, key recommendations are delineated into short-, medium-, and long-term goals. In the short-term: (1) work with local community leaders and government officials to tailor the design and implementation of the various version(s) of the Berhane Hewan program; and (2) show proof of concept, by implementing two condensed studies of the Berhane Hewan program at small-scale. In the medium-term: (3) improve access to education in rural areas of Niger. In the long-term: (4) include additional arms of the program and scale the program to the national level; and (5) mobilise legal partners, local community leaders, and government officials to help assess the obstacles impeding attempts to increase the legal minimum age of marriage to 18 for girls.

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Chulack, Anna (2020). Delaying Child Marriage in the World’s Most Afflicted Country: Evaluating Whether or Not Ethiopia’s ‘Berhane Hewan’ Intervention Program Could Be Replicated with Success in Niger. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/22395.


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