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 2020. Some Arab, Zjerma, and Tuareg ethnic groups propagate traditional forms of caste-based servitude in the Tillaberi and Tahoua regions, as well as along the border with Nigeria. Families may exploit victims of hereditary slavery in animal herding, small-scale agriculture, or domestic servitude; experts assert 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. Another form of traditional bondage known as “passive” slavery consists of powerful community members preserving complete control of their former servants’ individual freedoms.
In the Tahoua region, 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.
Observers stated pandemic-related border closures remained in place throughout the reporting period and resulted in an estimated 25,000 migrants stranded throughout Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. These irregular migrants—many of whom were located in the northern cities of Agadez, Arlit, and Dirkou—generally lacked access to livelihoods, support networks, and justice, which increased their vulnerability to trafficking. Additionally, experts shared anecdotal reports of an increase in unaccompanied children in Agadez over the course of the reporting period.
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 (talibes) in forced labor and begging within Niger, as well as in neighboring countries, at times with parents facilitating the trafficking. Semi-organized transnational criminal groups force Nigerien and neighboring countries’ children to labor in gold, salt, trona, and gypsum mines; agriculture; forced begging; commercial sex; stone quarries; markets; bus stations; and manufacturing within the country. Community members working in the artisanal gold mines in Komabangou, Tillaberi, continue to use adolescent boys and some girls in potentially exploitative conditions. Criminals exploit girls in sex trafficking near the border with Nigeria and along the main east-west highway, primarily between the cities of Birni n’Konni and Zinder. Brothel owners in Niger sexually exploit some women from Nigeria in the country and during their transit to North Africa.
Some Nigeriens exploit young girls from impoverished families in domestic servitude through a system known as confiage. This system consists of parents entrusting children to a near relative or a friend of the family with the expectation the receiving family will provide the child an education. Some receiving families exploit children under the confiage system in domestic servitude or sex trafficking. The ANLTP/TIM reported some parents “rent” out their children for the purposes of forced begging, as guides for vision-impaired individuals, or in domestic servitude in a phenomenon called location d’enfant (child rental) in the Kantche Department in Zinder.
Illicit labor recruiters and human smugglers (illicit actors who accept payment from individuals seeking to illegally cross international borders free from force, fraud, or coercion) 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 and the agricultural sector. Smugglers use unpaid transportation fees as a form of debt bondage, subsequently coercing some migrants who cannot pay into forced labor or commercial sex. Impoverished seasonal migrants—commonly from the Zinder region—traveling to Algeria for work remain vulnerable to forced labor and sexual exploitation. Criminal groups consisting of Algerians and Nigeriens may have forced some Nigerien children to beg in Algeria during the reporting period.
Niger is a transit country for adults and children from West and Central Africa migrating through Algeria, Libya, and Morocco to southern Europe, where some duplicitous transporters—or passeurs—may exploit smuggling clients in forced labor or sex trafficking. 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 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 then 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 in the southern states of Zinder and Diffa. Cuban nationals working in Niger on medical missions may have been forced to work by the Cuban government.