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. Traffickers 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 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 practice of wahaya for financial or political gain. This practice 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) as young as 6 years old in forced labor and begging within Niger and in neighboring countries, at times with parents facilitating the trafficking; many teachers set daily begging quotas enforced by beatings, and observers report the students lack access to adequate food and shelter. An NGO study estimates tens of thousands of students are forced to beg for an average of nine hours a day. Nigerien women recruit talibés for domestic labor, often leading to forced labor in domestic servitude. 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. Traffickers exploit Nigerien and foreign adult and child victims in forced labor in artisanal mining in Niger. 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 visually-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. Refugees and IDPs fleeing regional insecurity are vulnerable to trafficking.
Niger is a transit country for adults and children from West and Central Africa migrating through Algeria, Libya, and Morocco towards 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 increased migrants’ vulnerability to forced labor or sex trafficking by criminal networks. Migrant smugglers use unpaid transportation fees as a form of debt bondage, subsequently coercing some migrants who cannot pay into forced labor or sex trafficking. 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 migrant smuggling, which may include trafficking operations. In one NGO survey of migrant smugglers operating in Niger, almost 70 percent reported having contact with state officials, 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 of Nigerien and foreign nationals from Libya and Algeria to Niger increased migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking. Nigeriens comprise about 25 percent of international migrants in Libya, where there are widespread reports of officials subjecting detained migrants to violence and abuse, including trafficking. Seasonal migrants traveling to Algeria and Libya for work remain vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking. Criminal groups consisting of Algerians and Nigeriens force some Nigerien children to beg in Algeria. Trafficking networks transport Nigerian sex trafficking victims through Niger to Libya. 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. Cuban nationals working in Niger on medical missions may have been forced to work by the Cuban government.