Ten Facts about Niger’s “Fifth Wives” or WAHAYU

  • A wahaya (plural: wahayu) or “fifth wife” is a Nigerien girl or woman born into a slave caste and trafficked into domestic or sexual servitude.
  • A wahaya can be sold to a wealthy or powerful man for as little as $400 US (200,000 CFA).
  • The practice of “fifth wives” is most prevalent in Niger’s Tahoua region. Wahayu are also trafficked across the border, to northern Nigeria.
  • Eighty-three percent of the wahayu interviewed by Anti-Slavery International and Timidria researchers, for their joint report, had been sold into the practice before age 15—43 percent were sold between ages nine and 11, while 40 percent were sold between ages 12 and 14.
  • Another term used for a wahaya is sa daka, which translates to “put in the bedroom,” but in the context of a wahaya, can be interpreted as “shove her in the bedroom!” (with the intention of using her for sexual gratification).
  • Slavery was abolished in Niger in 1960, and national legislation was passed in 2003 to make it a criminal offense.
  • Niger has ratified a number of international conventions that the wahaya practice violates, including the International Labor Organization’s Minimum Age Convention (C138) and Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention (C182); the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography; and the U.N. Palermo Protocol on Trafficking in Persons.
  •  The first successful prosecution under Niger’s 2003 anti-slavery law was won by Hadijatou Mani, who became a wahaya at age 12, was forced to perform unpaid agricultural and domestic work, and endured regular beatings and rape. However, when the government failed to protect her newly-won freedom, Hadijatou Mani took her case before the Economic Community of West African States’ Court of Justice in 2008, which found Niger in breach of its own laws for failing to protect her.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons report, in the past year Niger’s government has made progress in enforcing its 2010 Law on Combatting Trafficking in Persons, but efforts to identify victims (like the wahayu) in vulnerable populations remain weak.
  • The Nigerien government maintains that since March 2005, slavery no longer exists in Niger. Reports by the U.S. Department of Labor and non-governmental organizations suggest otherwise.

 

Compiled July 2013

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