Niger is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. Caste-based slavery practices continue primarily in the northern part of the country and affect some 44,000 people. Victims from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, and Togo are exploited in sex and labour trafficking in Niger. Nigerien boys are subjected to forced labour, including forced begging, within the country. Corrupt marabouts or loosely organized clandestine networks may also place Nigerien girls into domestic servitude or commercial sex. Nigerien children are subjected to forced labour in gold, salt, trona, and gypsum mines; agriculture; stone quarries; and manufacturing within the country. Girls are subjected to sex trafficking along the border with Nigeria, sometimes with the complicity of their families Abdullah and his family lived under the control of their masters in descent based slavery until they settled in a village founded by Anti-Slavery International around its school project in Niger. As a result of this project, Abdullah is now able to go to school.
In 2016, the estimates of modern slavery in Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for approximately 13.6 percent of the world's total enslaved population. As evident from surveys conducted in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Ethiopia by Walk Free Foundation, slavery in Sub-Saharan Africa takes the form of forced labour and forced marriage. In Nigeria, survey results suggest that forced labour is predominantly within the domestic sector, although it was impossible to survey in three regions due to high conflict. In Nigeria and Niger, the ‘Wahaya’ practice continues to exist in which women and children are sold into sexual and domestic slavery as unofficial ‘fifth wives’. They are known as such because they are in addition to the four wives legally permitted in Niger and Nigeria. Tikirit Amoudar, 45 years old, describes how she was sold at aged 10 and remained as a ‘wahaya’ for 15 years.
Caste-based slavery practices continue primarily in the northern part of the country and affect some 44,000 people. Nigerien boys are subjected to forced labor, including forced begging, within the country and in Mali and Nigeria by corrupt marabouts. Corrupt ‘marabouts’ or loosely organized clandestine networks may also place Nigerien girls into domestic servitude or commercial sex. Tatinatt was born and grew up in slavery. But now she is positive about the prospect of a better life for her children – Rissa (11) and Mohamed (13) now that they are learning to read and write.
Tamada was born into slavery in Niger, home to some 43,000 hereditary slaves. Found among four of the country’s eight ethnic groups, slavery is a centuries-old practice in Niger. Slaves are controlled through violence and indoctrination, and are separated from their parents at a young age. Women and girls perform domestic duties, men tend herds of cattle and goats, and children are often passed from one owner to another. Individuals are also born into slavery in Mauritania, Mali, and Chad. Slavery was outlawed in Niger in 1960, when the country claimed independence from France, but this remained a theoretical ban. In May 2003 slavery was made punishable by up to 30 years in prison, and that same year, Tamada learnt that her mother and grandmother had escaped from their master. She decided to do the same. But her turning-point took several months: she waited, worried, and thought about running away, before seizing her children one evening and beginning her escape. Leaving Mali, she crossed the border back into Niger with her two children—the first born when Tamada was 12 years old. She was assisted by Timidria, a human rights organization founded in 1991. Tamada concludes with an acknowledgement that life after bondage remains hard. And the 2003 law seems to have made little difference for other slaves. In September 2004, the Tuareg chief Arissal Ag Amdague made a written promise that he would release 7000 slaves owned by his people. Claiming that his religious beliefs as a Muslim were incompatible with slaveholding, he said he wanted to release the slaves he had inherited. The date was set for this first ever release of slaves in Niger: March 5, 2005, at a ceremony in the village of Inates, near the border with Mali. But no mass emancipation took place. Instead, on March 5, just a month after Tamada had narrated her story, Amdague stood before the crowd and denied that he owned any slaves.