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. 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. Slaveholders 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 the traffickers due to a lack of support services and ingrained dependency on the trafficker. Another form of traditional bondage known as “passive” slavery consists of powerful community members preserving complete control of former servants’ individual freedoms. Estimates of the numbers of persons exploited in traditional slavery vary widely, but one report estimates it is as high as 800,000. 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 support services exacerbated by continued discrimination based on their former status as wahayu.
Traffickers in Niger predominantly exploit Nigerien children and women, as well as West and Central African victims, in sex and labor trafficking. Some Quranic teachers (marabouts) exploit boys (talibés) in forced labor and begging within Niger and in neighboring countries, at times with parents facilitating the trafficking. Nigerien women recruit talibés for domestic labor, often leading to exploitation. Traffickers also exploit women and girls in forced begging, including in neighboring countries. Semi-organized transnational criminal groups exploit children from Niger and neighboring countries in sex trafficking and forced labor in gold, salt, trona, and gypsum mines; agriculture; forced begging; stone quarries; markets; bus stations; and manufacturing within the country. Community members working in the artisanal gold mines in Komabangou, Tillaberi, use boys and some girls in potentially exploitative conditions. Traffickers 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. Traffickers transit Nigerian women through Niger and exploit them in sex trafficking in neighboring countries, and traffickers exploit Nigerian and Nigerien women in sex trafficking in northern mining cities and transportation centers in Niger.
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 child will receive an education. However, some children are exploited 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. NGO and government entities note that school closures and economic vulnerability resulting from instability and the pandemic have increased children’s vulnerability to recruitment by armed groups. Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa forcibly recruit Nigerien boys to serve as child soldiers. Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), a militant jihadist organization, uses children in combat and support roles and exploits women and girls as young as 13 in forced marriage, sometimes through abduction and for the purpose of exploitation.
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—exploit migrants 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 and undocumented migration underground and increased migrants’ vulnerability to forced labor or sex trafficking by criminal networks. Smugglers use unpaid transportation fees as a form of debt bondage, subsequently coercing some migrants who cannot pay into forced labor or commercial sex. Illicit labor recruiters 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. Some border officials are complicit in smuggling, which may include trafficking operations. In one NGO survey of smugglers operating in Niger, almost 70 percent reported having contact with state officials to facilitate smuggling, including obtaining documents and receiving information on patrols. In the past, media noted some law enforcement and border officials reportedly accepted bribes from traffickers to facilitate the transportation of victims through the country.
Sustained mass expulsions from Libya and Algeria increased migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking. In 2021, Algeria expelled more than 25,000 refugees and migrants, including Nigerien and foreign nationals, to Niger. Nigeriens comprise more than 20 percent of international migrants in Libya, where there are widespread reports of officials subjecting detained migrants to violence and abuse, including trafficking. 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 force some Nigerien children to beg in Algeria.
Observers report poverty and lack of economic opportunity, exacerbated by climate change’s effect on agricultural production and animal husbandry, are primary driving factors of human trafficking. During the previous reporting period, pandemic-related border closures resulted in an estimated 25,000 migrants stranded throughout Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger without access to economic or social support services, which increased their vulnerability to trafficking. Additionally, experts shared anecdotal reports of an increase in unaccompanied children in Agadez during the previous reporting period due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. Cuban nationals working in Niger on medical missions may have been forced to work by the Cuban government.