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 with 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 increasing trafficking investigations, prosecutions, and convictions and implementing the national referral mechanism (NRM). The government referred all identified victims to care, including to the government-operated trafficking shelter. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government reported minimal law enforcement action to address hereditary slavery and child forced begging. The government identified fewer trafficking victims. Niger’s law did not include penalties for adult sex trafficking commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape.

  • Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes and sentence convicted traffickers, including individuals who exploit victims in traditional forms of hereditary slavery and child forced begging, to significant prison terms.
  • Train judicial, law enforcement, and front-line officials on the 2010 anti-trafficking law and Article 270 of the penal code.
  • 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.
  • Disseminate and train officials on the NRM to increase proactive victim identification and referral to services.
  • Proactively screen for trafficking indicators among vulnerable populations, including migrants, IDPs, communities historically exploited in traditional slavery, children exploited in forced begging, children associated with armed groups, and Cuban overseas workers.
  • Increase availability of comprehensive victim services in coordination with civil society.
  • Increase coordination with regional, sub-regional, and international law enforcement organizations to investigate and prosecute transnational trafficking cases, separate from smuggling cases.
  • 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.

The government increased prosecution efforts. Order No. 2010-86 on Combating Trafficking in Persons, enacted in 2010, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The 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. Article 270 of the penal code also criminalized slavery and prescribed penalties of 10 to 30 years’ imprisonment and a fine.

The government reported investigating 33 suspects during the reporting period, including 10 for sex trafficking, seven for forced labor, and 16 unspecified. Despite court closures and case backlogs due to the pandemic, the government prosecuted 21 alleged traffickers, including nine defendants for sex trafficking, seven for forced labor, and five unspecified. This was an increase compared with investigating 17 suspects in nine cases and prosecutions of 17 alleged traffickers during the previous reporting period. Courts convicted eight traffickers (including two for sex trafficking and six unspecified), compared with four traffickers in 2020; courts sentenced four convicted traffickers to sentences between one year and five years’ imprisonment and had not sentenced the remaining four traffickers by the end of the reporting period. Despite continued reporting that such practices remained prevalent, the government reported minimal law enforcement action to address hereditary slavery practices, including the enslavement of children, and child forced begging. The government did not report law enforcement statistics on investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of traffickers exploiting victims in hereditary slavery, traditional chiefs who perpetuated hereditary slavery practices, or corrupt marabouts (Quranic teachers) who forced children to beg. Officials reported some slavery victims refused to testify against their traffickers due to fear of retribution and cultural stigma, which may have impeded law enforcement efforts. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained concerns, and may have inhibited law enforcement action during the year. Some border officials were complicit in migrant smuggling, which may have included human trafficking operations. Some law enforcement, prosecutors, and judicial officials may have declined to investigate or prosecute hereditary slavery or forced begging crimes involving traditional chiefs or marabouts. Media reported a Nigerien descendent of slavery filed a suit during the reporting period with the ECOWAS Court of Justice on behalf of 260 families against the Nigerien government for tolerating slavery and serfdom and for inaction in stopping practices preventing survivors of slavery and their descendants from owning land; the case remained pending at the end of the reporting period.

The government, through the ANLTP/TIM and in collaboration with civil society, trained judicial officials, law enforcement, front-line protection workers, consular officials, and other stakeholders on the 2010 anti-trafficking law, proactive victim identification and referral, and investigative procedures. Observers reported increased awareness of trafficking among law enforcement across Niger’s migration corridor, including the Maradi, Zinder, and Agadez regions; however, limited resources restricted officials’ ability to identify trafficking cases and effectively monitor the country’s porous border. The government signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government of Nigeria to formalize and operationalize law enforcement and intelligence sharing of trafficking cases. The two governments, with support from a foreign donor and international organization, formed a joint technical working group to coordinate interventions of transnational trafficking cases.

The government maintained protection efforts. The government did not compile comprehensive victim identification statistics. Pandemic-related border closures impacted security force and law enforcement mobility and consequently reduced their ability to proactively identify victims. The government identified 52 trafficking victims, compared with 95 victims identified the previous reporting period. The government referred all 52 identified victims to care. An international organization identified and assisted an additional 75 trafficking victims. The same international organization, with some government support, provided support and reintegration services to thousands of Nigerien and foreign national migrants expelled from Libya and Algeria, including potential trafficking victims.

The government coordinated victim identification and protection efforts through its NRM, which identified roles for prosecutors, judges, law enforcement, labor inspectors, diplomats, international organizations, NGOs, and union actors. The ANLTP/TIM, in collaboration with an international organization, trained front-line law enforcement and protection actors on the NRM and conducted quarterly reviews to assess its implementation and areas for improvement. The government continued to operate a trafficking-specific shelter in Zinder; the shelter, in coordination with an international organization, provided medical, psycho-social, and legal services, as well as reintegration and repatriation assistance, to 114 victims, including victims identified during the reporting period. This included 69 women, 25 men, and 20 children; the majority of victims were from Nigeria and were exploited in sex trafficking. International organizations operated additional shelters and transit centers, which trafficking victims could access. Foreign and domestic victims received the same services. Foreign victims who faced hardship or retribution in their country of origin could apply for legal residency, including the ability to obtain employment, but authorities did not report granting these protections to victims during the reporting period.

The government provided pro-bono legal services for victims who could not afford legal representation. Access to victim services was not conditioned on cooperation with law enforcement proceedings. The law allowed victims to obtain restitution, and victims could file civil suits against traffickers; however, there were no reports this occurred during the reporting period. Some victims continued to lack access to justice, as many were uninformed about their legal rights; fear of social stigma also deterred some victims from seeking punitive action against traffickers. Due to a lack of formal victim identification procedures, authorities may have detained some unidentified trafficking victims. The government’s 2017 protocol directed authorities to transfer children allegedly associated with armed groups to an international organization for care. There were no reports the government detained children for alleged association with armed groups. The government previously detained 10 children, including three boys detained for 11 months, in 2020; a juvenile judge released the children to an international organization for care and family reintegration services.

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The CNCLTP continued to serve as the ministerial coordinating task force for the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, and the ANLTP/TIM was the CNCLTP’s implementing body to address trafficking in persons; both convened regularly during the reporting period. In 2021, the government increased the budget for the ANLTP/TIM, allocating 32 million West African CFA francs (FCFA) ($55,000), compared with 22 million FCFA ($37,810) during the previous reporting period, and maintained the CNCLTP budget, allocating 12 million FCFA ($20,620) in 2021. The CNCLTP drafted a new 2022-2026 anti-trafficking national action plan, which remained pending adoption by parliament.

The government held some awareness raising campaigns in collaboration with civil society and distributed materials in local languages and French. The ANLTP/TIM hosted a delegation from the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Agency for the Prevention and Fight Against Trafficking in Persons to share best practices in combating trafficking, including Niger’s legal and institutional model. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government, with support from a foreign donor, provided anti-trafficking training to troops prior to their deployment as peacekeepers. Although not explicitly reported as human trafficking, there were five pending cases of alleged sexual exploitation with trafficking indicators by Nigerien peacekeepers deployed to the UN peacekeeping missions between 2015 to 2018. In two cases, the government had not yet provided the UN the information it needed to complete its investigation. The UN substantiated allegations in three cases, but the government had not reported the accountability measures taken, if any, by the end of the reporting period.

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 wahayaresults 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.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future