This is unusual – the BBC did a story on child (girl) marriage in Niger, and for once it actually said that religion backs the practice.
Niger also has one of the world’s highest rates of child marriage.
About 24% of girls will be married by the time they are 15. That rises to nearly 80% by the age of 18. It is a social phenomenon that affects all significant ethnic groups in Niger, including the majority Hausa community.
Hard-pressed families receive a “bride price” in return for their daughter’s hand in marriage. A girl married off is also one less mouth to feed.
It’s not her “hand” in marriage that rich men are buying.
In the northern city of Agadez, we were told of marriages of Tuareg girls to wealthy men from neighbouring Nigeria where thousands of dollars were paid – the price varying according to the girl’s beauty.
One mother, Amina, who asked that her full name not be used, has a 15-year-old daughter.
She is unemployed and separated from her husband, and described Niger as a place where “there is no room for women to dream dreams”.
Marriage was her daughter’s choice but she herself would welcome a wealthy suitor, she said.
“Many families have no choice… When a wealthy Nigerian comes offering millions [in local currency], they will let them marry, even if they are young,” Amina added.
One, they’re merchandise, and two, they have no other value, because they don’t go to school. They’re sold as fuck toys, or they’re a drain on resources. There’s no third option.
Aysha, which is not her real name, was married at 13 to a businessman from the northern Nigerian city of Kano.
“I didn’t think it was about marrying someone I would be happy with,” she said, “but I was very young and I didn’t have anybody to whom I could go for advice.”
Far from her family, Aysha found herself imprisoned in her new husband’s home.
“He was always trying to make it clear that it was as if he had bought me, that it was not because I wanted him but because he had bought me,” she told the BBC.
Aysha recalled that after about 10 days, he came and locked her in the bedroom.
“He mistreated me at home… One day he locked me in the bedroom… It is as if he raped me,” she said.
The teenager later managed to escape with the help of her brother – and is now 21 and studying to be a nurse.
But she’s the exception.
At the Dimol Clinic in Niger’s capital, Niamey, there were girls who had been married as young as 12.
Dimol means “dignity” in the Hausa language and the clinic treats girls and woman for fistula – a gynaecological condition often occurring in girls giving birth before they are physically mature. It can lead to severe infection and incontinence.
The clinic director is Salamatou Traore, a straight-talking symbol of African dynamism, who blames poverty and the lack of education for much of the problem.
“Getting change is very difficult and it is very costly – it is not easy, because most of the population is illiterate,” she said.
“They don’t go to school and they don’t allow the girls to go school. Change is difficult.”
And now, surprisingly for the BBC, religion gets a share of the blame.
While the marriage of young girls is a social norm here, it is also given explicit backing by religious leaders.
When the government tried to introduce laws to give more protection to girls, it faced strong opposition from prominent clerics in this overwhelmingly Muslim country.
At a Koranic school in Agadez, Sheikh Abbas Yahaya told the BBC that marriage should depend on the physical maturity of the couple.
“It depends on the body of the girl and the man’s body,” he said.
“If the two are mature the marriage can be OK also, because in Islamic religion even at age nine years, if the girl is in the right condition she can be able to get married.”
What the BBC did not do, which I wish it had, is pause over that “even at age nine years” and ask why nine. We all know why nine, and I wish the Beeb had nudged its audience into noticing why nine.