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NIGER: Tier 2

The Government of Niger does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Niger remained on Tier 2. These efforts included identifying and referring more victims to the government’s shelter in Zinder and launching the country’s national referral mechanism (NRM) in partnership with an international organization. Additionally, the government increased training for officials and civil society members. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Authorities reported a decrease in investigations and prosecutions, and Niger’s law did not include penalties for adult sex trafficking commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting individuals for traditional slavery practices.

Amend the 2010 anti-trafficking law to increase the base penalties for adult sex trafficking so they are commensurate with those for rape or kidnapping. • Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, and convict traffickers, including those engaged in traditional forms of hereditary slavery, by training additional judicial officials, law enforcement, and first responders on the 2010 anti-trafficking law and the 2003 anti-slavery law. • Increase coordination with regional, sub-regional, and international law enforcement organizations to investigate and prosecute transnational trafficking cases, separate from smuggling cases. • Disseminate and train officials on the NRM to increase proactive victim identification and referral to services. • Increase the quantity and quality of services available to victims in coordination with international organizations as well as NGOs. • Continue to fund and empower the National Coordinating Commission for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons (CNCLTP) and the National Agency for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons and the Illicit Transport of Migrants (ANLTP/TIM) to execute their mandates. • Screen foreign workers, including Cuban medical workers, for trafficking indicators and refer them to appropriate services if exploitative conditions are determined to exist.

The government decreased prosecution efforts. Order No.2010-86 on Combating Trafficking in Persons, enacted in 2010, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. This law prescribed penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving an adult victim, and 10 to 30 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent. Penalties for sex trafficking of children were commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape, although the penalties for sex trafficking of adults were not.

During the reporting period, the government reported initiating nine new investigations (three for sex trafficking, one for forced labor, and five for unknown forms of exploitation) and prosecuting 17 suspects under the country’s anti-trafficking law (officials did not disclose whether these were forced labor or sex trafficking), compared with investigating and prosecuting 54 suspects during the previous year. Courts convicted four traffickers in two cases during the reporting period. Authorities sanctioned the four traffickers with the following sentences, one of which was sufficiently stringent: one sentenced to six months’ suspended imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 West African CFA francs (FCFA) ($95); two sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment with three months suspended; and one sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment with six months suspended and a fine of 20,000 FCFA ($38). During the previous reporting period, authorities convicted four traffickers and sentenced two perpetrators to two years’ imprisonment and the other two offenders to five years’ imprisonment and a 500,000 FCFA ($945) fine. As a result of diminished in-person staffing intended to slow the spread of the pandemic, judicial officials managed significantly reduced caseloads during the reporting period.

Consistent with prior reporting periods, the government did not report investigating or prosecuting any marabouts (Quranic schoolteachers) who forced children to beg or traditional chiefs who perpetuated hereditary slavery practices, including the enslavement of children, despite credible information that such practices continued. Some victims continued to lack access to justice, as many were uninformed about their legal rights and faced challenges accessing the necessary judicial resources to seek punitive action against their traffickers. Unfulfilled victim protection requirements of the 2010 anti-trafficking law, due in part to limited government resources, may have resulted in victims inconsistently participating as witnesses and prosecutorial delays.

ANLTP/TIM partnered with an international organization during the reporting period to train magistrates and other judicial officials on techniques to prosecute suspected traffickers more effectively; authorities did not report the number of officials trained. In 2019, ANLTP/TIM reported training more than 425 officials. Authorities did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting government employees for complicity in trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity remained concerns and may have impeded law enforcement action during the year.

The government increased efforts to identify victims and refer them to care. The government did not compile comprehensive victim identification statistics, nor did it have standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification. Despite the lack of SOPs, the government reported identifying 95 victims during the reporting period. Over the course of the previous reporting period, officials reported identifying 47 victims, as well as 232 potential victims in one law enforcement operation in partnership with an international organization. The government referred all 95 identified victims to the Zinder shelter, compared with seven victims in the previous reporting year. Beginning in November 2020, government officials managed and staffed the shelter, providing victims medical, psycho-social, and legal services and coordinated with an international organization to deliver individualized reintegration assistance to victims to facilitate their return to their country of origin. ANLTP/TIM officials continued to liaise with an international organization during the reporting period to ensure optimal management of the shelter.

Officials launched the NRM in September 2020 and partnered with an international organization to train all ANLTP/TIM focal points on the mechanism. The NRM identified roles for prosecutors, judges, law enforcement, labor inspectors, diplomats, international organizations, NGOs, and union actors. In October 2020, the ANLTP/TIM partnered with an international organization to provide training for 29 individuals from the Ministries of Justice and Promotion of Women and Protection of Children, local education and health officials, and a traditional leader and NGOs; the training centered on increasing key actors’ ability to implement the NRM, community engagement, and improving law enforcement’s efficacy in identifying victims. The government broadcasted the training on two national television and radio stations in French and Hausa.

Victims of forced labor and caste-based servitude could file civil and criminal complaints simultaneously; however, there were no reports they did so during the reporting period. There were no reports officials penalized victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, some victims may have remained unidentified and subsequently penalized due to the government’s failure to employ systematic measures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations. The law provided for the possibility of granting victims legal residency in Niger, including the ability to obtain employment, if it was unsafe for them to return to their countries of origin; authorities did not report granting these protections to victims during the reporting period.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. CNCLTP continued to serve as the coordinating body for the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, and the ANLTP/TIM was the government’s permanent implementing body to address trafficking in persons. In 2020, the government reported providing 22 million FCFA ($41,590) for the ANLTP/TIM and 12 million FCFA ($22,680) for the CNCLTP, compared with funding both the CNCLTP and ANLTP/TIM at 73.5 million FCFA ($138,940) in 2019.

The ANLTP/TIM continued to implement its public awareness campaigns and used multiple media platforms across Niger to familiarize the public with trafficking and the risks of irregular migration to Europe. In June, ANLTP/TIM partnered with an international organization to rebroadcast a sensitization theatrical production developed during the previous reporting period. The government expanded its public engagement around its annual September 28 anti-trafficking day events for the sixth consecutive year, using the 2020 program to host public debates with stakeholders from the Islamic community, civil society, and NGOs and to launch the NRM in collaboration with an international organization. Additionally, ANLTP/TIM trained administrative and customary authorities, former smugglers, civil society organizations, women and youth associations, law enforcement officers, and media on the trafficking indicators in coordination with a law enforcement organization. In November 2020, the former ANLTP/TIM director general partnered with the United States to provide operational and strategic guidance to another government’s anti-trafficking lead. The ANLTP/TIM postponed other awareness-raising activities, trainings, and workshops as a result of measures to slow the spread of the pandemic in the country.

The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Bylaws governing the armed forces required troops to receive anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions, and the government addressed such requirements through a program conducted by a foreign donor. An international organization disclosed there were seven open allegations of sexual exploitation against Nigerien peacekeepers; the government did not report investigating or sanctioning the suspects. For the first time, the ANLTP/TIM trained diplomatic and consular officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation, African Integration and Nigeriens Abroad to increase their ability to respond to potential trafficking cases abroad.

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.

U.S. Department of State

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