Niger’s president blames explosive birth rate on ‘a misreading of Islam’

A misreading of Islam led to Niger’s explosive birth rate, hampering the country’s fight to adapt to the climate crisis and preserve its shrinking resources, the country’s president has said.

This nexus of issues is likely to have an increasingly direct impact on European politics, said Mahamadou Issoufou, who warned that migration may exceed the levels it reached during the second world war.

“Everything is connected to a global village. As they say, a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil and there can be a tornado in Houston,” said Issoufou, who has been feted by Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel as one of Africa’s most articulate leaders.

Issoufou claims he has been slowly driving down his country’s birth rate of more than seven children per woman, the highest birth rate in the world for the past decade.

He told the Guardian: “Before Islam came, women used to be married at the age of 18 but, due to a misreading of Islam, young women were having babies at the age of 12 or 13. But what does the Qur’an say? If an educated person reads the Qur’an, it talks about responsible parenthood. Islam says you should only have children if you can take good care of them and properly educate them.

“Schools need to educate young girls because we do not want them having children at 12 or 13. Ideally, we want to keep them in school as long as possible, until age 18. This is something new to us.”

He insists that, in a country that is 98% Muslim, his views do not conflict with imams or religious leaders. Although Issoufou has faced resistance from some Muslim leaders for advocating family planning, he insists: “Religious leaders are with us in raising awareness among the people, and that is why we are seeing … a decrease [in birth rates]”.