A very small percentage of Niger’s 26 million people are Christians – just 65,300 (0.3%).
Niger is a Muslim-majority nation and Islam is regarded as being part of Nigerien ethnicity: if you are a Nigerien, you are a Muslim. Conversion from Islam to any religion is considered a betrayal, and converts to Christianity face hostility from their family and community. They may be rejected by their families, chased out of the family home or put under house arrest. Many converts are denied their inheritance rights as a form of punishment for leaving Islam. Niger has the highest rate of child marriage in the world, with 76% of girls being married by the time they are 18. This is in part due to wide-scale poverty and escalating violence from jihadist extremists.
In the past five years, the Sahel region has seen a huge increase in violent Islamist attacks and the government of Niger has lost a lot of territory to the jihadists. The presence of militant groups such as Boko Haram, Islamic State's West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), remains a constant threat both to the state authorities and to Christians in the country. In border areas under Islamist control, militant groups are known to use violence against Christians meeting publicly, so Christian gatherings are conducted covertly to avoid detection.
Christians have occasionally been hindered from coming together for meetings and the legal process for the registration of churches is very long and difficult. The law also lacks adequate protection for Christian parents. In custody battles, the Christian parent usually loses, and the trend indicates preferential treatment towards Muslim parents.
“I faced a lot of challenges, and my siblings and relatives showed me hatred.” Mariama, a nigerien christian from a muslim background
In the public sphere, Christians face discrimination and hostility. They are rarely able to secure employment within local government services and are frequently denied promotion. And this is just the tip of the iceberg for the economic persecution and side-lining faced by Christians. In a country that is among the poorest in the world, this marginalisation can be devastating.
Mariama is a Christian from a small village in Niger. As someone who has converted from Islam, she faces many different types of persecution – even from her own family.
“I faced a lot of challenges, and my siblings and relatives showed me hatred. They kept asking: ‘Why did you accept this false teaching?’ But they are the ones living in false teachings because I have accepted the grace of God,” says Mariama.
Because of poverty in Niger, families survive by pooling their resources. When – like Mariama – they leave Islam, they are also seen as turning their backs on the support of their family and wider community. So Open Doors partners’ economic support is particularly valuable. As well as providing financial help to start a small business, partners are able to help Mariama and others with vocational and financial training.
With her portion, Mariama decided to start with small scale farming. “Thanks to your help, we have bought chickens, goats and cows. Now we have many animals. We use these animals even to help other people to start their own businesses.
“If you had not helped us, we would have lost our faith, because of our difficult situation. Thanks to your support and your teaching, we are all still on the right path. Thank you, may God bless you.”
Niger has risen five places on the World Watch List. Ongoing violence by extremist Islamic militants in the Sahel region has increased the pressure on Christians. Jihadist groups have expanded their areas of influence in the country.
In the past, Niger had been more or less spared from attacks by radical Islamic groups and the church was previously not a main target. However, in the last few years, the country has seen a series of attacks by Islamic militants. Pressure has also increased in all spheres of life, as Christians face increasing difficulties to live according to their faith while living in Islamic communities.
Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters in Niger. Your prayers make an enormous difference to those following Jesus no matter the cost.
Open Doors works through partners in Niger to strengthen persecuted Christians through economic empowerment programmes, leadership and discipleship training, persecution survival training and pastoral care for new believers.
Heavenly Father, draw close to those Christians who live in danger of persecution every day. Give those under pressure the strength to hold fast to You, and soften the hearts of those who are persecuting them. Intervene to make the legal system fair for all and stop the evil practices of abduction and forced marriages. Provide safe spaces for Christians to gather, worship and encourage one another. We lift up our brothers and sisters in Niger and pray for their continued strength and resilience. Amen.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.