COUNTRY STUDY - NIGER


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Sample and Study Areas

In Niger, the survey took place mainly in Maradi and Niamey. This setting enabled to examine the situation of girls with disabilities in greater depth, both in the capital of Niger and in a province reputed to be religiously conservative.

Assessment of Inclusive Education in Niger

Education in Niger, a Problem for all Children, and for Girls in Particular

According to the 2018 Human Development Index (HDI) report, Niger is back at the bottom of the world rankings (189th out of 189). The education sector in Niger faces various challenges that undermine the progress made.

# Universal primary education and primary school completion are hampered by high population growth, low enrolment and high drop-out rates.

# Access and completion rates are even lower among vulnerable groups, including girls in rural areas, nomadic children, and children with disabilities.

# Frequent climatic shocks also affect Niger's education sector and the country is not spared by the security crisis in the Sahel, which is forcing a significant number of schools to shut down.

# The situation of girls is particularly dramatic. Niger has the lowest gross primary school enrolment rate in the region (64.1%) and ranks 3rd among the 10 countries where girls' access to education is the lowest in the world. Girls lag behind boys throughout their schooling. According to the Global Partnership for Education, in 2015, only 62.2% of girls completed primary school, compared to 75.5% of boys; the completion rate for lower secondary school was 13% for girls, compared to 18% for boys. Keeping children – both boys and girls – in school therefore remains a major challenge in Niger.

# Children from the poorest households have almost no chance of reaching upper secondary education.

Introduction of a Gender-Sensitive Education Strategy

According to the 2018 Human Development Index (HDI) report, Niger is back at the bottom of the world rankings (189th out of 189). The education sector in Niger faces various challenges that undermine the progress made.

# Universal primary education and primary school completion are hampered by high population growth, low enrolment and high drop-out rates.

# Access and completion rates are even lower among vulnerable groups, including girls in rural areas, nomadic children, and children with disabilities.

# Frequent climatic shocks also affect Niger's education sector and the country is not spared by the security crisis in the Sahel, which is forcing a significant number of schools to shut down.

With this decree, the Niger government commits, among other things, to opening boarding schools and canteens, building separate toilets for boys and girls, providing merit-based food rations and scholarships to girls from poor households as well as allowances to vulnerable girls in secondary school, including cash and in-kind transfers, etc.

However, despite the political intention displayed, adequate budgets are not allocated for these objectives.

Children with Disabilities Are Lagging Behind in Education

Niger signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in March 2007 and ratified it on 24 June 2008 together with its Optional Protocol. An analysis of the legislative and regulatory framework shows that existing texts promoting the rights of persons with disabilities have evolved in their favour. However, the poor allocation of resources and the low level of awareness of these texts among public officials, people with disabilities and, above all, the general public lead to weak enforcement.

There are three educational approaches in Niger: Special education, integrated education, and inclusive education.

The government and partners provide technical and material support for the operation of special schools for blind and deaf children in Niamey, Zinder and Maradi. This effort has extended to the creation and operation of integrated and inclusive classrooms in Konni, Tahoua, Agadez, Maradi and Zinder.

The lack of special schools for children with disabilities and the little consideration given to the inclusive approach in mainstream schools result in little being done to meet the educational needs of these children. Existing special, integrated and inclusive education schools cover only a limited urban population.

Findings

& Discussions

Influence of Religion & Popular Beliefs

in the Education of Girls with Disabilities in Niger

Negative Representation of Persons with Disabilities Related to the Divine and the Supernatural

# There are still customs that portray disability as a sign of punishment from God or evil spirits (djinns)

# Parents of children without disabilities sometimes believe that children with disabilities will "infect" the classroom and do not want their children to attend classes with children with disabilities

# Others regard a person with a disability as someone who must be pitied and given alms, rather than a person with equal rights. People with disabilities are ignored, and the family invests little in them because they are said to be unproductive.

# Responsibility for the disability usually lies with the mother who is said to have made mistakes, such as travelling at dusk (the time when evil spirits come out), or stepping on the child of a Dogoua (female spirit that attacks foetuses and give them deformities (in the Arewa and Maradi regions).

# Some parents, mainly mothers, have to leave the community altogether to avoid discrimination.

Pregnant women avoid persons with disabilities for fear that their unborn child might be infected.

FGD with associations, Maradi

Variable Representation and Treatment Depending on the Ethnic Group

According to the president of the Niger Federation of People with Disabilities (FNPH), in the Songhay-Zarma community, which includes the Tuaregs, a person with a disability is viewed with compassion and is even over-protected by the family in order to avoid criticism from society. For example, blind people do not know how to put on their clothes. People with disabilities are almost hidden and are rarely seen. This may explain why there are no people with disabilities among beggars in Agadez and Diffa.

In Maradi, Zinder and Tahoua, on the other hand, the situation is radically different. Children with disabilities are exploited. They are beaten and forced to go and look for money. Families take advantage of them.

In Dosso and Tillaberi, they are neither overprotected nor exploited. They are treated like other people, and they farm. Children with disabilities do not beg there.

Niamey is a crossroads where all kinds of situations can be observed.

Accentuated Negative Representation for Certain Type of Disability and for Girls

People with physical disabilities are generally less stigmatised than people with sensory impairments, albino people, people with leprosy, and people with psychological or neurological disorders, who are ostracised.

According to the UNICEF study, reports of parents hiding children with disabilities in their homes were widespread, as were reports of neglect and marginalisation by other family members. Some parents deny that they have children with disabilities and hide them because of shame. They do not include their children with disabilities in household surveys and do not have birth certificates issued for them.

People with hysteria or dementia attacks are rejected because they are thought to be possessed by evil, potentially dangerous spirits.

As a result, their identification for care is a problem. This is particularly true for people with severe disabilities, such as quadriplegic children known as “snake children”. They often live in filth and in terrible isolation. Some supernatural powers are attributed to blind people.

Some studies show that stigma is not only associated with disability, but also with gender, and girls with disabilities are doubly disadvantaged. It appears that girls with severe disabilities are more likely to be abandoned or killed at birth, and they have higher mortality rates than their male counterparts.

Some people here believe that whoever has sex with a person with intellectual disability and is not caught gets rich.

FGD with religious leaders, Maradi

Influence of Religion and Traditional Healers on the Health of Girls with Disabilities

Families looking for ways to solve their children's health problems are sensitive to “miracle healing” stories. The parents we encountered while working on the study often visited marabouts and traditional healers first (and sometimes exclusively), but in the end the condition of the child worsened, as was the case for Sarah, 17, who is out of school, does housework, and begs to support her family:

"My problem is that my right arm and foot have been deformed since the age of 2. According to my mum, it happened one night after I had played all day. A spirit appeared when I was asleep, I screamed... and I ended up like this. In the morning my parents noticed that I could no longer control my hand and leg. They thought it was an injury. They took me to the healer who told them there were no wounds. We went home and continued the traditional treatment that consisted in incantations and fumigation to chase away the evil spirits, but it didn't work. My parents opted for traditional medicine because the neighbours told them that it wasn't a disease and that it wasn't worth seeing a doctor at the hospital."

Influence of Religious Organisations on the Education of Girls with Disabilities

In Niger, 98% of the population are Muslims. In Maradi the economic capital, which is on the border with Nigeria, the population is renowned for being particularly conservative as far as religion is concerned. In the eyes of parents, attending Koranic school is considered an asset for the integration of young people in a community that is based on Islamic values, while some people have a low opinion of secular education. For fear that sending girls to school would be contrary to customs and social norms, some families do not send their daughters to a mainstream school, but rather to Koranic school for a shorter time (focus group discussions with fathers and mothers of children with disabilities, Maradi).

The traditional perception of the role of girls not only determines the decision to send them to school or not, but also how long they stay in school. In some circles, they are forced to marry very early.

Some studies have identified the religious factor as one of the main barriers to girls' schooling. Islam is said to be less favorable to the schooling of girls. According to the Regional Director of Population in Maradi, it is crucial to raise awareness among Muslim religious leaders about gender inequalities and disability because they have an important influence on families:

Discrimination against girls in education persists despite efforts by government and partners. The problem is girls’ enrolment and dropout rates. The bottleneck is at the religious level. At a regional workshop with religious leaders, they strongly argued that under-enrolment was not a problem, as the aim of Western education, in their view, is to reduce fertility, and they are opposed to it. For them, school is a place of debauchery. They are reluctant to send girls without disabilities to school, all the more so when it comes to girls with disabilities! It's discouraging!

In a focus group discussion with religious and traditional leaders, they insisted that religion, be it Islam or Christianity, accepts everyone, and that people with disabilities are “gifts from God”. Religious leaders were not strongly opposed to the education of girls with disabilities, but they still favoured Koranic schools.

All the children with disabilities we met (except Sarah and Miriama) went to Koranic school while going to a mainstream or special school too. Most of them started with Koranic school because their parents wanted to give them an Islamic education, and also because their parents did not know that they could enrol them in a mainstream or special school.

Accompanying the Madrasas in Inclusive Education: an Important Issue

Teachers in the madrasas are generally not trained in sign language, Braille or the management of intellectual disabilities. They have to deal with all types of disabilities at the same time in the same class.

Picture 1: the Bagalam 3 madrasa, in an area where HI is not present; it is located in the “leper quarter”: some pupils study in straw huts sitting on the floor. The teacher of this class was absent.

Picture 2: a Franco-Arab madrasa in Zaria 2, an area where HI is present. This madrasa is better off. Yet, the Year 3 teacher has to look after some 40 pupils, including 6 children (5 girls and 1 boy) with cleft lip or with visual, hearing, intellectual and physical disabilities.

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École des Soeurs de Tibiri

Catholic schools also take in children with disabilities – even from Muslim families – and pay all the school fees for the most disadvantaged: for example, the École des Soeurs de Tibiri takes in children with intellectual and physical disabilities, but “not other disabilities, because we don't know how to do that”, explains the school's director, a retired teacher who has followed several training courses in inclusive education with the help of the Catholic Church. The school has a school bus, a canteen, a garden and a sports area. The nuns also organise awareness-raising campaigns to convince parents to send girls to school.

Intersectionality &

Multiple Discrimination

Gender & Disability

The High Opportunity Costs of Schooling Girls with Disabilities

Socio-cultural and socio-economic factors play a significant role in a family’s decision not to send a girl to school or to take her out of school. Families and communities often favour boys at the expense of girls, resulting in differences in educational opportunities and outcomes.

Some parents told us they were “afraid of 'wasting their money' on educating their daughters because they may get pregnant or get married before they complete their education”. Girls, once married, are generally considered members of another family, so that parents’ investment in girls is considered lost. In addition, sending girls to school may be a barrier to marriage because of widely held perceptions about educated girls. This is why parents do not want to leave their daughters in school for too long. For example, socio-cultural expectations of girls and the priority given to their future role as wives and mothers have a strong negative impact on their educational opportunities.

The decision to enrol a girl will depend on the economic and social benefits perceived by parents and people in their immediate environment. Sending girls to school entails prohibitive direct and opportunity costs for families, especially for poor rural families, as they lose important labour for agropastoral activities as well as for economic and domestic activities.

But according to the Regional Directorate of Primary Education, “this mentality is changing. There are almost as many girls as boys in school now.”

Schooling is free, but parents complain that the cost of uniforms, care, transportation and food, as well as the opportunity costs of their daughters' domestic work are too high compared to the benefits of schooling because of the economic loss this represents, as they actively contribute to the economic survival of the household through begging and their participation in household chores, as in the case of Sarah.

I wish I was sent to school. Now I'm a beggar. Depending on the day, I earn between 400 and 1,000 CFA francs. With this money, I help my family. We are 5 children; I am the third. My mother had 2 children with her first husband. I'm the only child she had with my dad, and then she had two more children with her third husband. He does not work. At home, I cook, sweep the yard, and do all the housework. I work more than the others, I do everything. My brothers and sisters go to Koranic school. I don’t.

The Director of the School for the Deaf in Maradi declared:

Unfortunately, parents do not see the point of sending a daughter with a disability to school. The mother generally keeps her at home to do housework. The mother’s reasoning serves her own interests. Parents can also tell their daughter to go out and beg, because they think that begging is more profitable than education. Moreover, Maradi is a town of traders. People think there is no point in studying.


Being a girl is a handicap. Being a girl with a disability is a second handicap, and not going to school is a third handicap.

Director of the School for the Deaf in Maradi

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Girls with Disabilities Have a Lower Enrolment Rate than Boys with Disabilities

In the most disadvantaged families, boys with disabilities are more likely to be sent to school than girls with disabilities, and even than girls without disabilities, as it was for Miriama.

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Miriama

20 years old, out-of-school, Maradi

I have never been to any school. All I do is beg. I started begging when I was seven years old. At that time, my elder sister carried me on her back to go begging. She has never been to school either. We are four children in the family. My younger brother also has a locomotor disability. But he has been enrolled in school. In the past, our parents didn't send children with disabilities to school, but now they have been sensitised by NGOs about the right of children with disabilities to go to school like any other child.

Age Discrimination


The age variable very often aggravates discrimination against girls with disabilities compared to boys with disabilities, particularly because of the gender difference in treatment at the age of puberty.

Late enrolment

Because of their disability, children are enrolled late in school. In some cases, teachers refuse certain children who are considered too old to start primary school. Children with disabilities are allowed to start school up to age 12. According to DPOs, “if a girl with a disability starts school at 12 for instance, at the end of primary school she would be 18. She would have little chance of moving on to secondary school”. However, bridging schools make it possible for some children with disabilities to join a mainstream school despite their advanced age. This is the case of Yahanazu, a 19-year-old albino girl who joined a Year 5 class in an a public school supported by HI:

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Yahanazu

19 years old, Year 5 in Maradi

I'm 19 years old, but they lowered my age to 16 to enrol me in school. They brought me here after a year at the Salsani school run by an NGO. My mother learned that children of an advanced age were studying in this school. She asked me if I wanted to study there, and she took me. I followed courses for adults for three months and then I learned French for six months. My first academic average is 90%, and my second average is 86.6%! I didn't have any problems integrating into this new school. It is not far from my home. I don't have any problems with the children here; only the little ones tease me, but I don't pay any attention to them. The only problem is that I find the writing on the blackboard very small. I am always the last to finish copying my lessons. Usually, I take my friends' copybooks to copy the lessons. But one day, when these pupils are fed up, they will refuse to give me their copybooks.

Portrait of Yahanazu


To read the subtitles in French, activate the option on Youtube.

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School dropout

At the end of primary school Year 6, promotion to the next grade is conditional on passing the secondary school entrance examination; that is when more than one pupil in three drops out of school. Children with disabilities, and girls in particular, tend to drop out more. We interviewed girls who were in vocational training. We found that they often dropped out on their own initiative due to the worsening of their disability and because of the hostile school and family environment: ridicule from classmates, accessibility issues (ramps, toilets, boards that are too high, poor lighting), lack of transport and educational support from teachers and at home.

The director of the Soli school for blind youth in Niamey says that girls drop out more than boys do because girls have to look after their families.

I remember a brilliant blind girl who had to leave school because her father became ill. We met her during one of our social surveys. Both her parents were beggars, and so was she. As soon as children start begging, it's over. You can't get them back. Parents need to be made aware!

The Director of the School for the Deaf indicates that there are very early dropouts in Year 1 classes:

There were 9 dropouts this year: 7 boys and 2 girls, mainly from Years 1 and 2. In fact, children are discouraged in their learning; in addition, the school is too far away and parents are tired or can no longer afford to travel to the school with them. When children stay in school beyond Year 4, they rarely drop out until the end of primary education.

The Issue of Domestic Work

In Niger, children are often at the heart of the survival strategies that households develop in the face of poverty and vulnerability. This results in their early introduction into the labour market, which often exposes them to precarious living and working conditions from an early age.

Child labour is a common phenomenon in Niger, even for very young children and children from wealthy families. Both boys and girls are affected by the phenomenon.

The study found that despite their disability, both boys and girls participate in household chores and economic activities at home.

However, when they are in school or have a severe disability, they work less than other children without disabilities.

"At home, I help with the housework, do the dishes, sweep up and take the grain to the mill. It's not very difficult. There are things that I cannot do. For example, my eyes itch when I try to make fire. As soon as I get close to fire, my eyes hurt, and if I move away, I feel better." (Fatimatou, 9 years old, visually impaired, Bagalam 3 madrasa)

"At home, I do the dishes, sweep the house, and collect water. At home, my elder sister works more than I do. She also helps me with my homework. She was sent to another school because she is very good." (Yazia, 11, mental health problems and language disorders).

"I lost my father. He was a shopkeeper and he sold mattresses; my mother is a seamstress. Since dad’s death, mum has been doing everything. To help her out, I cook, do the dishes, and sweep the compound when it’s not sunny. I don't work that much compared to the others; when doing something involves exposure to sun, they do it." (Yahanazu, 19, albinism, Sabongari 3).

The Issue of Early Marriage

Early and/or forced marriage affects the great majority of girls in Niger. Niger has the highest rate of early marriage in West Africa. One in four girls aged 15 to 19 (25%) marries before age 15, and more than three quarters of women (77%) marry before age 18.

Early marriage most often leads to early pregnancies as well as pregnancies in close succession, and thus constitutes a major obstacle to girls' schooling. The fertility rate of Nigerien women remains high, at 7.3 children per woman in 2015. It is higher in rural areas than in urban areas. The fertility rate of adolescent girls is particularly high. Thus, 44% of women aged 15-19 are either pregnant with their first child or already have at least one child (2015).

Some parents prefer to marry their daughters rather than send them to school because of honour issues and religious conviction, as they want to avoid any risk of pregnancy outside marriage. Early marriage is responsible for 30% of school dropouts for girls in Niger.

However, there is a decrease in early marriage compared to 2012. In the field, teachers and associations have confirmed this trend. According to them, the awareness campaigns and the strengthening of the legislation have borne fruit.

Girls with disabilities find it more difficult to marry and are less affected by early marriage than girls without disabilities. However, they are withdrawn from school as they approach puberty in order to protect them from pregnancy outside of marriage, which is considered shameful.

Here, people usually say that if a girl with a disability comes from a rich family, she will find a normal husband. But if a girl with a disability is poor and uneducated, she is more likely to be married to an older man.

FGD with DPOs, Maradi

Generally, girls with disabilities are given in marriage to important marabouts as a kind of alms, without any dowry and without a trousseau being collected.

FGD with DPOs, Maradi

When a teacher tries to dissuade parents from marrying their daughter early, they send the girl to another village under the pretext of enrolling her in another school, but in fact they marry her.

School principal in Maradi

Aggravating Factors

Poverty & Place of Residence

Children with Disabilities often Abandoned to Grandparents

During the study, we came across many cases where parents of children with disabilities divorced after the father or mother had left home because of a child's disability. Moreover, in polygamous remarriages, children with disabilities were often left with grandparents. This is the case of Habsatou, a 13-year-old pupil in Year 4 at a public school in Maradi. She is bright, but her education is compromised because her family can no longer afford her medical treatment.

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Habsatou

13 years old, Year 4 in Maradi

I live with my grandmother because I am sick. When I was in Year 1, my dad decided to take me to Niamey for a leg and throat consultation, but before we returned from Niamey, my dad passed away. My mother remarried and she left with my three brothers, leaving me behind... At school I don't even go out at recess. That’s not because of the students, but because I don't have money for snacks. My grandmother would give me 100 or 50 CFA francs a day for a few days, and then she would say, “The money is finished!” It’s my uncles that send us money to buy food. My mother sends me some money, but not much.

The Issue of Begging

Socio-economic status can influence attitudes towards disability. The most disadvantaged people with disabilities can be more stigmatised than people with disabilities who are well off. If the person is well off, gender becomes secondary: for example, a girl with a disability from a wealthy family is more likely to be enrolled and remain in school than a poor boy with a disability or a poor girl without a disability.

The main concern for the stakeholders interviewed is the exploitation of children with disabilities due to the poverty of households.

The problem of educating children with disabilities is primarily a problem of poverty. We cannot dissociate disability from poverty. When a girl with a disability comes from a wealthy family, people don't even talk about her disability. She will have no problem going to school. Poor families usually tell me this: “We have understood that we have to send our children to school, but we don't have the means; what we want is food!” Another parent told me one day: “In the past, he earned me 2,500 francs a day (by begging). Now that he's with you, he earns me nothing!” (The Secretary General of the Maradi 1 Town Hall and Social Affairs Officer).

DPOs note that children with disabilities often end up as beggars, and children of persons with disabilities as guides for their parents. Children are an important source of income for families. Even today, the overwhelming majority of people with disabilities still survive by begging. Begging is undertaken by both boys and girls with disabilities.

Public perception in certain regions of Niger strongly associates people with disabilities with begging. Begging is a social phenomenon in the sense that it is created and maintained by society and the family, which automatically regard a person with a disability as a beggar who brings in resources. A person with a disability is no longer an object of compassion from other family members, but an economic player who migrates to accumulate wealth by taking advantage of his or her disability.

Some literate persons with disabilities who know the Koran have a high social status and can reap significant gains. According to reports, persons with disabilities have migrated from the village to the city and then to the capital; there are cases where they have migrated to other countries in West and Central Africa and even to other continents.

Begging is an offence under the Penal Code but is rarely punished. However, a marabout was recently charged and convicted of forcing a dozen children with disabilities to beg, including in Nigeria. Begging then turns into trafficking. According to the Regional Director for the Protection of Women and Children:

"Poverty is at the heart of the trafficking. After the harvest, parents send their children to a marabout to learn the Koran. In reality, they are subjected to forced labour. Most of the time, the marabout takes them to town where they have to beg. Cases of cross-border trafficking to Nigeria and Gabon have been reported."

The children haven’t learned anything but begging. Society has conditioned them. Begging has become a business. Persons with disabilities earn more when they beg than when they work.

FDG with DPOs, Maradi

Begging is also common among pupils because it is their parents who send them to beg on Fridays.

FDG with DPOs, Maradi

Transport Issues Leading to Dropout

It appears from the interviews that the lack or the cost of transport is one of the main causes of dropouts, because special schools are mainly located in large cities, and inclusive schools are still few in number.

"Travel is too expensive, especially when the child has multiple disabilities. Almost all out-of-school children with disabilities live on the periphery. Some parents make the effort to take their child to school, but when they are away from home, no one takes care of them." (Secretary General of the Maradi 1 Town Hall and Social Affairs Officer).

"Even when parents received a scholarship from the Ministry of Population to pay for school fees, transport and the canteen, they stopped taking the child to school because the transport costs were too high. Travel is a major problem for parents. A school bus should be made available." (Director of Pelican, a centre for people with intellectual disabilities).

"Transport is the main cause of dropouts in our school. It is too expensive for parents. We have observed that when the school has a canteen, the enrolment rate is higher because it motivates parents. We proposed to a mother to provide lunch to her child at noon. She really wanted the child to go to school, but after a while she gave up because it was too far away. We need a school bus, but we never managed to get one." (Director of the School for the Deaf in Niamey).

Housing Problems for Female Students with Disabilities

The place of residence has a significant impact on the schooling of children with disabilities. Special schools are only located in the capital, Niamey, or in large provincial towns such as Maradi or Zinder, and regular primary schools in rural areas are often far away. For upper secondary education, few rural communities have a secondary school and there are no boarding schools in close proximity. Thus, parents have to send their children with disabilities to a neighbouring town and pay for transport and accommodation. Students often live with family or friends, but parents are reluctant to leave their daughters without adequate supervision for reasons of safety and protection. Rural families are more likely to send a boy with a disability to study in the city than a girl with a disability. For example, Abdoul Rachid is in Year 3 at public school in a area where HI is not present. He has a locomotor disability in his upper and lower limbs, but he has no tricycle to get around. He goes to school in town thanks to his aunt with whom he stays and who looks after him.

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Abdoul Rachid

Year 3 in Maradi

According to my parents, my disability occurred after I received an injection. I don't have any device for moving around. I go to school like this. Fortunately, I live at my aunt's house, on the other side of the road. My parents are farmers; they don't live here; they are in the village. There is a school there, but it is very far from home. One day, my aunt visited us in the village and decided to bring me here to study. She keeps a shop. She once bought me a tricycle, but it was too large for me. We sold it before I was enrolled in this school.

Specificities Related to the Type and Degree of Disability


The type and severity of the disability and the way it was acquired lead to different levels of stigmatisation, according to DPOs. Children with physical disabilities, especially those who can still move around without assistance or who have mobility aids, are the least discriminated against, mainly because they are perceived as people who can be independent. Children with sensory disabilities (especially deafness), intellectual disabilities and mental disabilities are subject to extreme discrimination. Schooling them is often considered impossible. They rarely go to school and are often hidden by the family. Most of the time, there are no solutions for children with severe disabilities. Parents don't even try to send their children to school. Many parents cannot afford to send their children to special or private schools, above all if they live in rural areas, and the vast majority of mainstream public schools are unable to receive them.

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Hearing Impairment

For the whole country, there are only three special schools for children with hearing impairment in Maradi, Zinder and Niamey and a few inclusive classes in mainstream schools under HI projects. Their reception capacities are very limited and some children come from far away. In special schools, the number of students per class is limited (about 10) and they receive good-quality instruction from teachers trained in sign language. Due to lack of funds, the school has to turn away many children. Children are talkative, and they feel safe and comfortable in their school. They would like to go to secondary school next year, but the secondary schools available are not suitable for them, as there are no sign language teachers.

Inclusion does not mean accepting all children when you do not have the means or without training teachers properly. Doing this also creates exclusion.

Director of the Maradi School for the Deaf

According to DPOs, deaf people find it more difficult than blind people to study and succeed in school. They practise lipreading due to the lack of professional sign language interpreters and they do not go beyond upper secondary school.

According to the Director of the Maradi School for the Deaf:

Deaf students are not assessed properly at the baccalaureate exam. They often fail. They then seek vocational training, or the best ones go to Burkina Faso to continue their studies. Deaf children mainly have problems in literature and philosophy because of the syntax of sign language which has no verbs.

On the other hand, they do not have problems in science, unlike visually impaired students who are exempted from maths from Year 5 onwards. The baccalaureate exam for deaf children should also be adapted, for example by replacing the essay test with another more suitable test.

Some deaf children do well in primary school and try to go to secondary school, but it has been observed that they usually return to their old school because of lack of support. There are no trained teachers. In addition, pupils are too old and behave violently.

The observations reveal that the teaching goes well in the inclusive classes of the mainstream public schools supported by HI. Thanks to well-trained teachers, adapted pedagogy (for example, the use of role-play, see the video), this system enables children with hearing impairment of different ages to acquire the basics of sign language before joining mainstream classrooms in the same school.

In Diori, the teacher of the inclusive classrooms is hearing-impaired; he was trained by the director of the School for the Deaf in Maradi. The system is still too new to assess how well the pupils from the integrated classrooms integrate with the mainstream classrooms.

Visual Impairment

The headmistress of the Soli School in Niamey confirms that “children with visual impairment can go far in their studies, sometimes as far as the National School of Administration (ENA). Some of them come back to teach here.” The school was founded in 1979. It has a canteen and a boarding school with about 60 beds for boys and girls.

From Year 4 onwards, visually impaired children can join a mainstream school if they want to, with the authorisation of their parents. A UNAN car picks up the written exercises, and the association transcribes them, with a long delay. But you cannot send blind children from Year 1 directly into a mainstream classroom without teachers trained in Braille. It would be a waste of time and they would come back here. It is best if the child studies Braille for several years in a special classroom first before integrating into a mainstream classroom, with the support of a peripatetic teacher. This is our goal. Also, the government could train more Braille teachers, as Braille can be learned in just one month. And we can train them.

At the Ceinture verte and the Centre-Barreti schools in Maradi, there are integrated classes (Years 1, 2 and 3) where children with visual impairment learn Braille. From Year 4 onwards, they are put in a mainstream classroom in the same school. A peripatetic teacher visits to support the regular teacher in the classroom.

This system seems to be working. Unfortunately, classrooms are overcrowded, not all teachers are trained in Braille in the school, and they do not have the appropriate teaching materials, for science for instance.

The Management of Intellectual Disability Remains a Challenge

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has identified gaps in the inclusion of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities. The Niger delegation has announced the creation of a programme for the social inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. An intersectoral committee in charge of this issue has also been set up.

A visit was organised to the Diori School in Maradi, which is supported by HI. The principal introduced us to a young boy with an intellectual disability who was enrolled in a mainstream classroom.

When he arrived, he was dirty, he was drooling and he couldn't speak. Today he is clean and he is able to sing the national anthem and fetch things. He has made remarkable progress in terms of socialising with the other children.

Pelican is one of the few organisations that take care of children with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities. Its director deplores the lack of means to support these children who are neglected by their families. Created in 2001, the centre is always on the verge of closure.

"This year, we have 23 children enrolled. Almost all the children come from mainstream schools. They used to be rejected and mocked there. Our aim is to support them individually and then send them back to a mainstream school, but children with severe disabilities are an issue. Teachers are not able to manage them. They can't devote all their time to one child! Yet, these children are lovely if you take good care of them. A girl with Down Syndrome could work and take care of children." (Director of Pelican, Niamey)

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Gender-Based Violence &

Protection of Girls with Disabilities


The UNICEF study highlighted the alarming level of sexual violence in Niger, which most often takes place within the family. While girls and women with disabilities experience various forms of violence, this violence is not considered sexist because their disability masks their gender. Although there is a lack of data on violence against children with disabilities, studies show that abuse of women with disabilities far exceeds abuse of women without disabilities. Girls with disabilities are also more vulnerable than boys with disabilities and more likely to be abused, mistreated and sexually assaulted. Violence against women and girls with disabilities is not a sub-category of gender-based violence: it is a cross-cutting category intersecting gender-based violence and disability. The convergence of these two factors results in an extremely high risk of violence against women and girls with disabilities.

Girls with disabilities, especially girls with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, communication disorders or visual impairments are particularly vulnerable because it is assumed that they are not able to reveal what has happened and identify the perpetrators. Girls with intellectual disabilities and girls with albinism are particularly vulnerable to physical and sexual violence because of popular belief that having sex with them or owning parts of their bodies can make you rich. In addition, girls with disabilities are often considered asexual. Some believe that sex with a virgin girl can cure HIV, and the common erroneous assumption that people with disabilities are sexually inactive and therefore virgin and free of sexually transmitted diseases also makes them vulnerable to attackers who consider them as safe sexual partners.

Yahanazu says that she has been approached many times by men, but her family had warned her and is protecting her:

I would like to get married, but it is very difficult. I have already been approached by boys, but God has not decided yet that I’ll marry. When boys approach me, my brothers think they want to take advantage of me. When the boys are asked to come forward, they disappear. On two occasions, boys asked me to go with them to a house that they are building, saying that they want to marry me. I told my mother and she said no to both of them. When I walk around, there are boys who bother me. My parents have told me that if they talk to me, I shouldn't pay attention to them.

One day, someone living near our house approached me. Every time he would stop me on the way to school. I told my mum; she told me to go easy on him because there are people who can bewitch me and take me away for a sacrifice. But I still wanted to go with him... He told me that he was going to teach me how to work like him, in a money transfer agency. My parents went to see him to ask him to leave me alone or they would report him to the police. One of my uncles intervened. After that, he left me alone.

DPOs mention the issue of supporting girls with disabilities when they are raped or have unintended pregnancies, because “they can no longer stay with their family, are abandoned and have to fend for themselves”. There are no concrete measures to prevent such violence, and there are no mechanisms to help women to report cases of rape or to socially rehabilitate survivors of sexual violence. Associations do not receive any grants from the government to undertake awareness raising and/or training campaigns for families and the community. Moreover, legal proceedings are rare due to sociocultural burdens.

In Niger, there is a traditional practice called “Wahaya”; it is also known as the “fifth wife”. Young girls, sometimes as young as 12, are sold as sex slaves and domestic servants; people call them unofficial "fifth wives" – in addition to the four wives officially authorised. This practice is still present in Niger, mainly due to the trafficking of young girls on the border between Niger and Nigeria in the Tahoua Region. These young girls are very vulnerable because they do not have any legal status. In 2014, a man was convicted of this practice. Girls with disabilities can be particularly affected by Wahaya because they are a burden on parents who try to get rid of them by any means.

Children often have to walk 10-15 km to get to school, and girls are bothered on the road or even sexually abused.

FDG with DPOs, Maradi

A girl with a disability is an easy prey. Whenever a boy without a disability approaches her, she is eager to accept, while the boy may just want to take advantage of her. He doesn’t want to marry her.

FDG with DPOs, Maradi

Analysis of Facilitating Elements & Recommendations

1 / Children with Disabilities & their Parents

Parents of children with disabilities are key to the educational success of girls with disabilities and in raising awareness among other parents of children with disabilities. It has been observed that the vast majority of parents of children with disabilities are influenced by sociocultural burdens that lead to discrimination, desertion or seclusion.

Furthermore, they are often unaware that children with disabilities can learn and be successful in school. Most of them do not know about the existence of special schools, neither do they know that their children with disabilities have the right to attend public schools.

Generally, it is the mother who takes care of the education of girls, but the father (or a father figure, namely a brother or an uncle) also plays a determining role in their success at school. Older siblings also play an important role through their help with homework. There is evidence that when parents and family members are sensitised, they are confident that their children with disabilities will succeed, and children with disabilities – especially girls – sometimes do better in school than children without disabilities. Habsatou says: “I have good grades thanks to my cousin. He is a university student. He helps me with my homework”.

Extreme poverty in families pushes children with disabilities into begging and prevents them from being enrolled in school. This phenomenon is widespread in Niger.

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2 / Children without Disabilities & their Parents

Parents of children without disabilities often do not set a good example and contribute to stigmatisation by students. However, when children without disabilities are sensitised, they show empathy and solidarity with their peers with disabilities.

On the other hand, when children without disabilities are not sensitised, their mockery severely affects children with disabilities, so much so that two children with motor disabilities that we met (one on them is Balkis) were lucky to receive a tricycle but preferred not to use it at school for fear of being mocked by their classmates.

3 / Political, Religious, and Community Leaders

Political, religious and traditional leaders exercise great influence in their communities. They can play a crucial role in raising awareness. Although religion – both Islam and Christianity – encourages benevolence towards people with disabilities, believers sometimes do not demonstrate open-mindedness.

On the other hand, as far as gender issues are concerned, some religious and traditional leaders do not encourage the schooling of girls, saying that “modern” education leads to the perversion of traditional values.

4 / DPOs, Women's Associations, and Structures Promoting Inclusion Education

In contrast to Burkina Faso, where DPOs have spearheaded inclusive education, inclusive education in Niger has been driven by international organisations, including HI, which implements projects in cooperation with state structures. The special education structures run by DPOs are located in the capital and in large urban centres such as Maradi and Zinder. They would like to invest in inclusive education and establish their own inclusive schools, but they lack partners and funding.

The first problem to overcome is the problem of identifying children with disabilities because they are usually hidden by their families.

Unlike in Mali, where community workers facilitate the identification of children with disabilities, and in Burkina Faso, where municipal committees have been set up to better identify, refer and care for children with disabilities, the establishment of community workers is more difficult in Niger.

DPOs say that the issue of the education of children with disabilities must be correlated with vocational inclusion and access to employment. They regret the lack of vocational training centres and opportunities for their students.

5 / Educational Stakeholders

In the education sector, there is a marked shortage of skilled teachers trained in the inclusive approach, both in special education institutions and in state schools. Teachers are seen to have a key role to play in getting children into school (for example, by preventing early marriage).

Teaching and learning materials as well as methodologies are not gender and disability sensitive. They reflect male-centred views and power hierarchies. The absence of role models for women with disabilities in educational materials, in the media, and as educators and mentors highlights women’s lack of visibility. Role models and positive representations are needed in order to change attitudes and encourage girls with disabilities –and their families– to continue their education.

6 / Institutions & Public Policies

The problem of education in Niger is general. The government must continue its efforts for universal primary education. In order to reach girls with disabilities in particular, the government must ensure the implementation of existing policies in favour of girls' education (exemption from school fees, provision of school kits, food rations, scholarships, etc.), and design and implement a genuine inclusive education policy in collaboration with DPOs.

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Recommendations

There is a need for a double approach to promoting the education of girls with disabilities, which involves improved access and quality education for all children as well as targeted programmes for girls with disabilities in particular. To allow the planning of these policies, there is an urgent need to fill the data gap on disability and gender.

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