Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape; it 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 survivor. If there is a familial relationship between the perpetrator and the survivor, aggravating circumstances apply to the sentencing. Rape was a widespread problem, and stigmatization of survivors continued. The law does not explicitly recognize spousal rape, and authorities seldom prosecuted it. Cultural views discounted spousal rape. 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 this law, and courts prosecuted cases of domestic violence when they received complaints.
Survivors often sought to deal with rape within the family or were pressured to do so, and many survivors did not report spousal rape due to fear of retribution, including loss of economic support. 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.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM)/C): The law prohibits FGM/C. The government did not enforce the law effectively. FGM/C estimates from a 2012 Demographic and Health Survey and UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys, combined with data from the 2017 UN World Population Prospects, estimated the prevalence of the practice to be 8.5 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 survivor, the prison sentence is three months to one year and the fine is doubled. The government did not effectively enforce the law.
Sexual harassment was widespread. Cultural attitudes influenced 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 NGO 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: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Barriers that impeded access to sexual and reproductive health services included limited access to family planning, lack of education in contraceptive methods, and lack of other health services including emergency services (less than 50 percent of the population lived within three miles of public health care facilities).
Due to a shortage of skilled health professionals, unequal distribution of health workers between urban and rural areas, lack of clean water in health centers, 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, serious complications from these clinic deliveries, and the high cost of health services further dissuaded families from using clinics. It was unclear whether the government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services including emergency contraception 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 Fund estimated 18 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.
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 to 8.9 percent of men. Fewer than seven women out of 10 were represented in the labor market, compared to almost 10 out of 10 men. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment, including limitations on working in occupations deemed dangerous.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The constitution forbids discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, political affiliation, disability, or religion. The government made some efforts to enforce the law but was limited by insufficient oversight of police and security forces and insufficient investigative mechanisms.
Members of the Boudouma minority in the Diffa Region and the Fulani minority in the Tillaberi 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.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from a citizen parent. 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 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 in 2019 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. Authorities made efforts to enforce the law 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.
The law prohibits 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 performed manual labor for the household and provided sexual services. This practice was concentrated in a specific region in the center of the country. No statistics on its practice were available. There were no reported prosecutions for this offense since 2019.
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 some of the problems that result from early marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The commercial sexual exploitation of children was a problem. The law criminalizes the use, sale, or offering of a minor for the purpose of commercial sex. 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 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 commercial sexual exploitation 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: The law prohibits infanticide, and the government prosecuted offenders. Infanticide regularly occurred, including sometimes children with disabilities, 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.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities can access health services, but can rarely access education, public buildings, or transportation on an equal basis with others. The national health system, which normally provides free medical care to children younger than age five, gives lifelong free medical care to persons with disabilities. 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.
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. Authorities sometimes investigated or punished those responsible for violence or abuses against persons with disabilities.
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.
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 beyond high school.
The law does not contain clear provisions regarding voting registration for persons with disabilities.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Although the law provides for protection against discrimination, persons with HIV and AIDS commonly experienced social stigma and discrimination. Working with other organizations, the government continued its strong antidiscrimination campaign.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There was strong societal stigma against same-sex sexual conduct, but there are no laws criminalizing adult consensual same-sex sexual conduct. The law punishes an “unnatural act” with a person younger than 21 of the same sex.
The law does not prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) persons in such areas as housing, employment, and access to government services. Gay men and lesbians experienced societal discrimination and social resentment. LGBTQI+ 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.
There continued to be serious stigma associated with being the descendant of a slave or former slave. One NGO reported separate schools and facilities must be constructed in rural areas for children of former slaves as social norms prevented their education alongside other children. Former slaves, particularly women, faced social stigma and often relocated to new areas following their release from bondage.