THREE out of four girls in Niger are married before they are 18, giving this poor west African country the world’s highest rate of child marriage. The World Bank says it is one of only a very small number to have seen no reduction in recent years; the rate has even risen slightly. The country’s minimum legal age of marriage for girls is 15, but some brides are as young as nine.

Across Africa child marriage stubbornly persists. Of the roughly 700m women living today who were married before they were 18, 125m are African. Among poor rural families the rate has not budged since 1990. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that, on current trends, almost half the world’s child brides by 2050 will be African.

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But some countries have shown they can keep young girls out of wedlock. In Ethiopia, once among Africa’s top five countries for child marriage, the practice has dropped by a third in the past decade, the world’s sharpest decline, says the World Bank. The government wants to eradicate child marriage entirely by 2025.

Education is vital. “You generally don’t find a child bride in school,” notes a UNICEF expert in Ethiopia. Its government spends more on education as a proportion of its budget than other African countries. More than a third of its girls, a big increase, enrol in secondary schools. In Niger the figure is less than a fifth.