Niger is a source, transit, and destination country for children, women, and men subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Caste-based slavery practices continue primarily in the northern part of the country. Nigerien boys are subjected to forced labor, including forced begging within the country, as well as in Mali and Nigeria, by corrupt marabouts (religious instructors). Corrupt marabouts or loosely organized clandestine networks may also place Nigerien girls into domestic servitude or in the sex trade. Nigerien children are subjected to forced labor in gold mines, agriculture, and stone quarries within the country. Girls are subjected to prostitution along the border with Nigeria, particularly along the main highway between the towns of Birni N’Konni and Zinder. In the Tahoua region of Niger, girls born into slavery are forced to marry men who buy them as “fifth wives” and subsequently subject them to forced labor and sexual servitude; their children are born into slave castes. Traditional chiefs play a primary role in this form of exploitation, either through enslaving children in their own families or arranging “marriages” for other powerful individuals. Some girls in forced marriages may be exploited in the sex trade after fleeing their nominal “marriages.” Nigerien girls reportedly enter into “marriages” with citizens of Nigeria and other foreign nationals living in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, after which they are forced into domestic servitude upon arrival in these countries.
Nigerien women and children are recruited from Niger and transported to Nigeria, North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe where they are subsequently subjected to domestic servitude, sex trafficking, and forced labor in agriculture or animal herding. In 2013, 92 Nigeriens—mostly women and children suspected to be victims of trafficking—died in the Nigerien desert after their bus broke down en route to Algeria. Niger is a transit country for men, women, and children from Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, and Togo migrating to northern Africa and Western Europe, where some are subsequently subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking. Additionally, some migrants are subjected to forced labor in Niger as domestic servants, mechanics, welders, laborers in mines and on farms, or as staff in bars and restaurants. Corrupt law enforcement and border officials accept bribes from traffickers to facilitate the transportation of victims into and throughout the country.
The Government of Niger does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The National Agency for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons (ANLTP), the government’s permanent implementing body to address trafficking in persons, was established and became operational in 2014. The government continued to conduct awareness-raising events throughout the year, often with support from international organizations. In a positive development, the government convicted eight police officers for accepting bribes from suspected traffickers. It continued to prosecute and convict traffickers using its 2010 anti-trafficking law and to identify and refer victims to NGOs to receive care; however, a six-month staffing gap in the National Commission for the Coordination of the Fight against Trafficking in Persons (CNCLTP)—currently serving as the coordinating body for the government’s anti-trafficking efforts—limited the effectiveness of the government’s efforts, and the overall number of convictions obtained and victims identified declined considerably.
Recommendations for Niger:
Vigorously prosecute and punish trafficking offenders, including those guilty of slavery offenses, using the anti-trafficking law; hand down adequate sentences for individuals convicted of committing trafficking offenses, including public officials, and enforce court judgments; train law enforcement and judicial officials throughout the country on the provisions of the anti-trafficking law in coordination with NGOs and international organizations; implement procedures to identify and protect trafficking victims among groups of vulnerable migrants during efforts to combat illegal immigration and people smuggling; train law enforcement officials to identify trafficking victims proactively among vulnerable populations, such as women in prostitution, girls born into slave castes, and children at worksites, and to refer them to protective services; develop systematic procedures to refer identified victims to protective services and support NGO partners in providing victim care; rescue and refer all suspected victims; increase the quantity and quality of services available to victims; increase efforts to rescue victims of traditional slavery practices and adult victims; initiate law enforcement investigations into suspected cases of local officials colluding with traffickers or accepting bribes to obstruct criminal investigations of trafficking crimes, particularly traditional slavery; allocate government funds to the operation of the CNCLTP and the ANLTP; and continue an initiative to raise public awareness about the anti-trafficking law—specifically targeting vulnerable populations, religious leaders, and traditional chiefs and encouraging victims to exercise their rights under the law.
The Government of Niger continued anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, including through punishing public officials for acts that could facilitate trafficking, though the total number of prosecutions and convictions declined compared to 2012. Order No. 2012-86 on Combating Trafficking in Persons, enacted in 2010, prohibits all forms of trafficking, including slavery and practices similar to slavery. This law prescribes punishments of five to 10 years’ imprisonment for committing trafficking offenses against adults and 10 to 30 years’ imprisonment when the victim is a child, penalties that are sufficiently stringent. Penalties for child trafficking are commensurate with those prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape, but penalties prescribed for the trafficking of adults are not. The law defines slavery and practices similar to slavery and specifically prohibits exploitative begging. Other statutes prohibit certain forms of trafficking; the country’s penal code prohibits slavery, procurement of a child for prostitution, and the encouragement of or profiting from child begging in Articles 270 (as amended in 2003), 292-293, and 181, respectively. Niger’s labor code, enacted in September 2012, outlaws forced labor. The penal code’s prescribed penalties of 10 to 30 years’ imprisonment for slavery offenses are sufficiently stringent and reflect the serious nature of the crime. The penalties prescribed in the labor code for forced labor are also sufficiently stringent in terms of imprisonment, but the law allows for the option of a fine in lieu of jail time, which does not reflect the serious nature of this crime.
The government investigated 70 trafficking offenses, prosecuted 18 defendants suspected of labor trafficking offenses, and convicted five labor trafficking offenders, a decrease from the prosecution of 24 cases and 22 convictions during the previous reporting period. Convicted offenders received prison sentences ranging from 11 months to two years, and were reportedly ordered to pay fines used to compensate victims. Thirty investigations remained pending at the close of the reporting period. The government did not make progress in ending impunity for marabouts who force children to beg or traditional chiefs who facilitate the enslavement of children in 2013, though media reports indicate a marabout and his wife were arrested in February 2014 for suspected child trafficking. Structural barriers impeded victims’ access to justice, as they were often uninformed about their legal rights and lacked the necessary capacities and resources to seek punitive action against their exploiters. There were no reported developments in pending slavery cases, some of which have reportedly been ongoing for years. There were reports that local officials chose not to pursue slavery cases brought to their attention due to social or political connections of the alleged traffickers. In November 2013, the government investigated 18 police officers for acts that may have facilitated trafficking; it prosecuted nine and convicted eight police officers in the Agadez region for accepting bribes to facilitate the illegal transportation of 92 migrants—suspected to have been trafficking victims—who subsequently died in the desert en route to Algeria. Seven of the convicted officers received suspended prison sentences, and one was sentenced to 11 months’ imprisonment.
The government continued modest efforts to identify and refer victims to NGOs to receive care, but overall victim protection efforts remained inadequate. Authorities did not develop or employ systematic measures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as women and girls born into traditional slave castes or children at worksites, and there were no formal procedures to guide officials in referring identified victims to protective services. There were no reports of victims of hereditary slavery identified or assisted during the year. The government, through the CNCLTP, identified 50 child victims and referred them to NGOs to receive protective care on an ad hoc basis, compared with 183 victims identified in the previous reporting period. The government provided medical assistance and temporary shelter in social service facilities to an unknown number of child victims identified. The government relied almost exclusively on NGOs and international organizations to provide services to victims, though NGOs’ capacity to provide shelter or long-term services to victims was inadequate; their primary role was often to facilitate repatriation or family reunification of victims. Victims were often forced to return to their villages after a few months if NGO resources ran out, and some children spent the night in police stations when shelter space was not available. There were no specialized services available in Niger for adult victims or victims of hereditary slavery.
The government reported that adult victims would be encouraged to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases, though the government did not identify any adult victims during the year. Victims of forced labor and caste-based servitude were able to file civil and criminal complaints simultaneously. There were no reports of civil complaints filed; the government reported some victims received compensation from fines imposed on convicted traffickers, but it did not provide additional details about the nature of this compensation or the number of victims receiving it. Victims’ lack of awareness of the legal options available to them, fears of retaliation by traffickers, and lack of adequate shelter and protective services impeded efforts to obtain their participation in investigations and prosecutions. There were no reports that identified victims were detained, fined, or jailed for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; however, the government did not make adequate efforts to identify trafficking victims, which left many victims unidentified and likely led to some victims being treated as criminals. In November 2013, authorities at a domestic checkpoint arrested and detained 150 Nigerien and Nigerian migrants, including children, aboard five trucks attempting to cross the Sahara en route to Algeria, without efforts to screen for trafficking victims among them. Front-line officials did not receive training in identifying victims and referring them to protective services, and border guards often denied entry to suspected traffickers and victims rather than attempting to rescue victims and place them in protective care. The 2010 anti-trafficking law includes provisions to ensure foreign victims would be safe upon return to their countries of origin and provides for the possibility of granting victims legal status in Niger, including the ability to obtain employment.
The Government of Niger increased its efforts to prevent human trafficking during the year. The CNCLTP continued to serve as the coordinating body for the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, though a six-month gap in leadership and a lack of funding limited its effectiveness. In January 2014, the ANLTP became operational as the government’s permanent implementing body to address trafficking in persons. The government completed a draft national action plan to combat trafficking, though it was not approved by the Council of Ministers during the reporting period. Senior officials recognized publicly the problem of human trafficking and Niger’s policies to combat it; for example, in October 2013, the Minister of Justice chaired a seminar for 100 participants from government, civil society, and the community to raise awareness about laws prohibiting trafficking and mechanisms for trafficking case referral. The CNCLTP distributed information on the dangers of human trafficking to the public and organized donor-funded training and awareness programs, including a one-day conference in September 2013 that brought together approximately 1,000 government officials and community members. In July, the government produced panels on government-run television and radio platforms featuring government officials and civil society members to discuss issues of human trafficking. In November 2013, the government ordered the closure of migrant “safe houses” in northern Niger, used as transit points for migrants en route to countries in North Africa and sometimes used to lure migrants into situations of forced labor or sex trafficking in destination countries; although allegedly prompted by protection concerns for migrants, this policy may have made some migrants—including unidentified trafficking victims—more vulnerable to harm, as these efforts were not accompanied by protection measures. The government took no discernible measures to address the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts. Bylaws governing Niger’s armed forces require troops to receive anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions, though there is no evidence the government implemented such training during the reporting period.