Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not specify the gender of victims. The law was rarely enforced. Rape is punishable by 10 to 30 years in prison, depending on the circumstances and age of the victim. If there is a familial relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, aggravating circumstances apply to the sentencing. Rape was a widespread problem, and stigmatization of victims continued.
The law does not explicitly recognize spousal rape, and authorities seldom prosecuted it. Cultural views discounted spousal rape. Victims often sought to deal with the rape within the family or were pressured to do so, and many victims did not report spousal rape due to fear of retribution, including loss of economic support.
The law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence, and violence against women was reportedly widespread. Husbands commonly beat their wives.
A woman may sue her husband or lodge criminal charges for battery, penalties for which range from two months in prison and a token fine to 30 years’ imprisonment. The government tried with limited success to enforce these laws, and courts prosecuted cases of domestic violence when they received complaints.
Charges stemming from family disputes often were dropped in favor of traditional dispute-resolution mechanisms. While women have the right to seek redress for violence in the customary or formal courts, few did so due to ignorance of the law and fear of spousal or familial repudiation, further violence, or stigmatization.
SOS Women and Children Victims of Violence (SOS-FEVVF) reported receiving several rape and sexual abuse declarations from girls and women.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, which is punishable by six months to three years in prison. If an FGM/C victim dies, the practitioner may be sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison. In February, UNICEF estimated the prevalence of the practice to be approximately 2 percent among girls and women.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime punishable by prison sentences of three to six months and fines. If the violator is in a position of authority over the victim, the prison sentence is three months to one year and the fine is doubled.
Sexual harassment was widespread. Cultural attitudes limited women’s perception of what is harassment and encouraged acceptance. Cases were rarely reported, but when they were, courts enforced applicable laws. In previous years SOS-FEVVF estimated that eight of 10 young female workers in small shops faced sexual harassment, and only two in 10 reported it. Poverty made women especially vulnerable to harassment in the workplace.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but they often lacked the information and means to do so. Barriers to contraception included weak demand from the population and lack of education in contraceptive methods.
Due to a shortage of skilled health professionals, unequal distribution of health workers between urban and rural areas, and distance to health centers, many women used traditional midwives during childbirth and were referred to hospitals only when the mother or child suffered health complications. With limited antenatal care visits, women frequently did not understand the potential for complicated labor and so came late to clinics for assisted deliveries. Reports of deaths and serious complications from these clinic deliveries further dissuaded families from using clinics. It was unclear whether the government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to sexual violence survivors.
The World Health Organization reported the maternal mortality ratio in 2017 was 509 per 100,000 live births. Major factors influencing maternal mortality included lack of prenatal care, high rates of adolescent pregnancy, diseases during pregnancy, hemorrhage and severe postpartum infections, malnutrition, and lack of access to emergency obstetric care. The UN Population Division estimated 21 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception.
According to the 2012 Demographic and Health Survey, 30 percent of births took place in health centers, and skilled personnel attended 29 percent of births. The United Nations reported in 2017 that the adolescent birth rate was 185 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equal legal status and rights regardless of sex, women do not have the same rights as men under family law, which customary courts usually adjudicate. In customary law, legal rights as head of household typically apply only to men. Customary law does not consider a divorced or widowed woman, even with children, to be a head of household.
Discrimination was worse in rural areas, where women helped with subsistence farming and did most of the childrearing, cooking, water- and wood-gathering, and other work. In the absence of a formal will stating otherwise, a daughter’s share of a deceased parent’s property is half the size of a son’s share.
Women had low access to education and high rates of early marriage. They were underrepresented in school and employment. According to the UN 2019 Human Development Index Report, only 4.3 percent of adult women had reached at least a secondary level of education, compared with 8.9 percent of men. Fewer than seven women out of 10 were represented in the labor market, compared with almost 10 out of 10 men. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment, including limitations on working in occupations deemed dangerous.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents, if one parent is a citizen. Birth registration, especially in remote rural areas and in nomadic communities, did not take place promptly due to parental poverty, lack of awareness, and distance from government services. The government’s failure to register births at times, although not done on a discriminatory basis, resulted in citizens’ reduced access to some services.
Education: Although the law provides for education for all children from ages four to 18, compulsory education for children of specific ages was not enforced. Many parents kept young girls at home to work, and girls rarely attended school for more than a few years. Access to education for children nationwide was a problem, due to a shortage of teachers, classrooms, and supplies, especially in rural areas. The low quality of public education undermined parents’ estimation of the value of sending their children to school and contributed to low attendance rates. For those that were in school, boys’ completion rate for primary school was 87.4 percent, while the completion rate for girls was 69.5 percent.
Child Abuse: Violence against and abuse of children were common. The law prescribes penalties for child abuse. For example, parents of minors who usually engage in begging, or any person who encourages children to beg or profits from their begging, may be sentenced to six months to one year of imprisonment. The abduction of a minor younger than 18 is punishable by two to 10 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for abduction for ransom is life imprisonment. Authorities made efforts to enforce these laws and combat child abuse.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law allows a girl deemed to be “sufficiently mature” to marry at age 15. Some families entered into marriage agreements under which they sent rural girls who were age 12 or even younger to their “husband’s” families to be under the “supervision” of their mothers-in-law. According to UNICEF, 76 percent of girls married by age 18 and 28 percent of girls married by age 15.
Working with civil society organizations, in 2019 the government prohibited wahaya, a practice whereby some men were able to buy or to be gifted with a “fifth wife.” These unofficial wives (Islam allows a maximum of four wives) were the daughters of hereditary slaves, often sold at ages seven to 12 (see section 7.b.). They were intended to perform manual labor for the household and provide sexual services. This practice was concentrated in a specific region in the center of the country. No statistics on its practice were available.
The Ministry of Women’s Promotion and Children’s Protection cooperated with women’s associations to sensitize traditional chiefs and religious leaders in rural communities to the problem of early marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The commercial sexual exploitation of children was a problem. The law criminalizes the procurement, sale, or offering of a minor for the purpose of prostitution, with penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and fines. The minimum age for consensual sex is 13 for both boys and girls.
The law provides that “exploitation shall include, at minimum, slavery or practices similar to slavery” and adds that the recruitment, transport, transfer, harboring, or receiving of a minor younger than 18 for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered trafficking in persons. The penalty for violators is five to 10 years in prison and fines. If the victim is younger than 18, the penalty is 10 to 30 years’ imprisonment. If the victim dies, the penalty is life imprisonment.
The law prohibits “indecent” acts against victims younger than 18. It leaves to judges to determine what constitutes an indecent act. The law addresses practices related to pornography.
Girls reportedly were trafficked for forced prostitution along the main east-west highway, particularly between the cities of Birni n’Konni and Zinder along the border with Nigeria.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Infanticide occurred, and a sizeable proportion of the female prison population was incarcerated for this crime, which was often committed to hide pregnancies out of wedlock.
Displaced Children: Many displaced boys from rural areas were indentured to Islamic schools, where they were forced to beg on the streets of larger cities. Displaced children had access to government services, but services were limited. Unaccompanied migrant children transited the country en route to Libya, Algeria, and Europe. Some unaccompanied migrant children travelled to the Djado gold fields of the country’s northeast to find work in unregulated gold mines.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There was no significant Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law defined a person with disabilities as one “unable to meet all or part of his needs for a normal life due to a physical, sensory, or mental deficiency.” The government made efforts to enforce these provisions. For example, regulations require that 5 percent of civil servants be persons with disabilities; the government in 2017 employed slightly less than 1 percent. There were no specific regulations in place mandating accessibility to buildings, transportation, and education for persons with disabilities. The law mandates that new government buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the law was not enforced. Authorities sometimes investigated or punished those responsible for violence or abuses against persons with disabilities.
The national health system, which normally provides free medical care to children younger than five, gives life-long free medical care to persons with disabilities.
Social stigma regarding disabilities resulted in neglect and even infanticide, according to the Federation for Handicapped Persons. A high percentage of persons with disabilities were forced by their families to spend their lives begging.
Children with disabilities were legally able to attend school but faced difficulties, including a lack of adapted instruction and materials, a shortage of specialists for working with children with special needs, and a lack of flexibility in the evaluation system. For example, the lack of professional sign language interpreters prevented deaf children from continuing their education past high school.
The law does not contain clear provisions regarding voting registration for persons with disabilities.
Members of the Boudouma minority in the Diffa Region and the Fulani minority in the Tillabery Region faced governmental and societal discrimination due to a widespread perception that the two groups supported or facilitated terrorist activities. Concerns regarding escalation of anti-Fulani prejudice continued. There were also some unconfirmed reports of security forces targeting Fulani in raids and intentionally avoiding Fulani areas during recruitment efforts.
There was strong societal stigma against same-sex sexual conduct, but there are no laws criminalizing adult consensual same-sex sexual conduct. The law states an “unnatural act” with a person younger than 21 of the same sex is punishable by six months to three years in prison and fines.
Gay men and lesbians experienced societal discrimination and social resentment. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex rights associations reportedly conducted their activities secretly, in part because they were not officially registered. There were no reports of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no documented cases of discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation. Observers believed stigma or intimidation impeded individuals from reporting such abuse.
Persons with HIV or AIDS experienced societal discrimination, although strong government efforts discouraged such discrimination. In conjunction with several other organizations working on HIV/AIDS topics, the government continued its antidiscrimination campaign. The law provides for protection against discrimination for persons suffering from diseases such as HIV or AIDS and sickle cell anemia.
There continued to be serious stigma associated with being the descendant of a slave. One NGO reported in 2019 that in Denkila village a court decision reportedly prevented a group of 274 families from farming their land for the previous six years. A person with a competing claim to the land had obtained a court injunction against the defendants’ use of the land based on an outdated law that forbids former slaves from owning or farming land, in contradiction with the 2003 law banning slavery. With the support of an antislavery NGO, the descendants appealed the decision to the ECOWAS Court of Justice and were awaiting a response at year’s end.