Muslim clerics declared victory last week in Niger after the government agreed to withdraw a course on sexual and reproductive health from the school syllabus. Islamic organizations and leaders denounced the classes as against Muslim values. Niger has the world’s highest fertility rate and 30 percent of girls are married by the age of 15. The country reports that average of around eight children per woman.
By age 18, 77 percent of girls are married in Niger which is predominantly Muslim.
The course, “Training on sexual and reproductive health of adolescents and young people for responsible behaviour,” was introduced in September in conjunction with the United Nations. It taught that people could decide if and when they had romantic relations or marriage. That outraged many clerics.
World health officials denounced the decision and noted that 73 percent of adolescent girls are still illiterate in Niger because they are forced into marriages. The spokesman for Islamic groups, Sambo Ousman, rejected such arguments as teaching “wrong” lessons and said that the decision to end the program affirmed that “the good running of education must involve Muslims.” He added that “Islamic associations do not in any way accept . . . the total lack of morality by undermining our values without exception, the confusion between freedom and licentiousness and the legalization of fornication and homosexuality.”