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 in 2019. Anecdotal reports indicate some Arab, Zarma, and Tuareg ethnic groups propagate traditional forms of caste-based servitude in western and northern regions, as well as along the border with Nigeria. An expert stated victims of hereditary slavery frequently do not self-identify or file complaints against their traffickers because of a lack of reintegration services and ingrained dependency on their trafficker. 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 some community members exploiting girls as young as nine in forced labor and sexual servitude; wahayu 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. Another form of traditional bondage known as “passive” slavery consists of powerful community members preserving complete control of their former servants’ individual freedoms.
Traffickers in Niger predominantly exploit Nigerien children and women, as well as West and Central African victims in sex and labor trafficking. Some Quranic schoolteachers (marabouts) exploit boys (talibés) in forced labor and begging within Niger, as well as in neighboring countries. Transnational criminal groups force Nigerien and neighboring countries’ children to labor in gold, salt, trona, and gypsum mines; agriculture; stone quarries; markets; bus stations; and manufacturing within the country. Criminals exploit girls in sex trafficking along the border with Nigeria. Brothel owners in Niger sexually exploit some women from Nigeria in the country and during their transit to North Africa.
Illicit labor recruiters facilitate the transport of Nigerien women and children to Nigeria, North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe where traffickers then exploit victims in sex trafficking or forced labor in domestic service or the agricultural sector. During the reporting period, fraudulent labor recruiters used online job postings to entice Ghanaian men to travel to Niamey, where the recruiters then confiscated the job seekers’ identity documents and restricted their liberty. Impoverished seasonal migrants—commonly from the Zinder region—traveling to Algeria for agricultural work were also vulnerable to forced labor and sexual exploitation. Observers note Nigerien trafficking networks became more sophisticated over the course of 2019 in response to increased government enforcement efforts as well as rising instability motivating individuals to migrate irregularly.
Niger is a transit country for men, women, and children from West and Central Africa migrating through Algeria, Libya, and Morocco on to Western Europe, where some duplicitous transporters—or passeurs—may exploit smuggling clients in forced labor or sex trafficking. EU support for the government’s implementation of its 2015 anti-smuggling law, intended to limit irregular migration through Niger, has forced previously open (albeit undocumented) 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. Media noted some 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, porters, cooks, firewood collectors, watch standers, cattle herders, and other support roles.