As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Niger, and traffickers exploit victims from Niger abroad. Hereditary and caste-based slavery practices perpetuated by politically influential tribal leaders continued, although no reliable estimate exists of the number of traditional slaves in the country in 2018. An NGO specializing in assisting victims of hereditary and caste-based slavery reported most victims do not self-identify or file complaints against their traffickers because of a lack of reintegration services and ingrained dependency on their trafficker.
Traffickers in Niger exploit West and Central African victims in sex and labor trafficking. Exploitative Quranic school teachers (marabouts) subject boys to forced labor, including forced begging, within Niger and in neighboring countries. Traffickers subject Nigerien children and children from neighboring countries to forced labor in gold, salt, trona, and gypsum mines; agriculture; stone quarries; and manufacturing within the country. In the Tahoua region of Niger, influential chiefs facilitate the transfer of girls from impoverished families to men as “fifth wives” for financial or political gain. This practice—known as wahaya—results in girls as young as nine being exploited in forced labor and sexual servitude; their children are then born into slave castes, perpetuating the cycle of slavery. Girls fleeing these forced marriages are vulnerable to traffickers who exploit them in commercial sex due to a lack of reintegration support exacerbated by continued discrimination based on their former status as wahayu. In Algeria, traffickers force Nigerien children to beg and subject Nigerien women and girls to sex trafficking. Criminals exploit girls in sex trafficking along the border with Nigeria.
Traffickers fraudulently recruit Nigerien women and children and transport them to Nigeria, North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe where they subject victims to domestic servitude, sex trafficking, or forced labor in the agricultural sector. Some Nigerien migrants traveling with unrelated children to Algeria were suspected to be traffickers. Impoverished seasonal migrants—commonly from the Zinder region—traveling to Algeria for agricultural work were also vulnerable to forced labor and sexual exploitation. Traffickers in Sudan exploit Nigerien and other West African children in forced begging rings. Nigerien traffickers primarily operate small, freelance operations in loosely organized networks. There have been reports of businesspeople and informal travel agencies recruiting women for exploitation in sex trafficking or domestic servitude in the Middle East or northern Nigeria.
Niger is a transit country for men, women, and children from West and Central Africa migrating to North Africa and Western Europe, where some are subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking. West African migrants fall victim to traffickers while transiting Niger en route to Libya or through Algeria and Morocco to reach Europe. European support for the government’s implementation of its 2015 anti-smuggling law, intended to limit irregular migration through Niger, has forced previously open (albeit illicit) migration underground and increased migrants’ vulnerability to forced labor or sex trafficking by criminal networks. Criminals transport both Nigerien and Nigerian women into neighboring West African countries, and exploit them in sex trafficking inside Niger, especially in northern mining cities or in transportation centers. In some instances, law enforcement and border officials reportedly accepted bribes from traffickers to facilitate the transportation of victims through the country. Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa forcibly recruit Nigerien boys to serve as child soldiers, girls into forced marriages, and minors to serve as suicide bombers. According to reports, government security forces coordinated military operations with GATIA within Niger; GATIA forces recruited and used child soldiers in 2018.