Niger is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Traditional slavery practices perpetuated by politically powerful tribal leaders continue primarily in the northern part of the country. No reliable estimate exists of the number of traditional slaves in the country, though a study in 2003 estimated traditional slavery may affect some 40,000 people.
Victims from West and Central Africa are exploited in sex and labor trafficking in Niger. Nigerien boys are subjected to forced labor, including forced begging, within the country and in neighboring countries, especially by corrupt marabouts. Loosely organized clandestine networks may also place Nigerien girls into domestic servitude. Nigerien children are subjected to forced labor in gold, salt, trona, and gypsum mines; agriculture; stone quarries; and manufacturing within the country. In the Tahoua region of Niger, girls born into slavery are sold or given as gifts to men as “fifth wives,” a status in which they are subject to forced labor and sexual servitude, a practice known as wahaya; their children are then born into slave castes which perpetuates the cycle. Traditional chiefs play a primary role in this form of exploitation by arranging “marriages” for other powerful individuals. Some girls in forced marriages may be exploited in commercial sex after fleeing these nominal unions. In Algeria, Nigerien children are forced to beg and Nigerien women and girls are vulnerable to sex trafficking.
Nigerien women and children are recruited from Niger and transported to Nigeria, North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe where they are subjected to domestic servitude, sex trafficking, or forced labor in agriculture or animal herding. Some migrants were suspected to be traffickers, particularly Nigerien migrants to Algeria traveling with children unrelated to them. Traffickers operated primarily small, freelance operations in loosely organized networks of individuals. There have been reports of freelance businesspeople (both men and women) 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. Increasingly, West African migrants fall victim to traffickers while transiting Niger en route to Libya and Europe. Niger’s implementation of its 2015 anti-smuggling law has forced the previously open (albeit illicit) transportation industry underground, which has increased migrants’ vulnerability to forced labor or sex trafficking. Nigerian women are transported into neighboring West African countries, and are exploited 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 and girls to serve as child soldiers. According to several reports, the Government of Niger provided some limited material and logistical support within Niger to the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (GATIA). GAITIA has been reported to recruit and use child soldiers.