In Niger, according to ILAB, 2 out of 3 children ages 5-14 work. Less than 1 in 3 attends school regularly. Children work in street vending and perform hazardous work in agriculture and mining of gold gypsum and salt.


 By Sharon L. Fawcett, CLC Contributing Writer

“I clean the floor many times in a day. When it is not well done, my employer throws the dirty water at my face.” This is how girl from Togo describes her experience with child labor to Anti-Slavery International (ASI) researchers. She is a child domestic worker, enduring her employer’s abuse.

The International Labour Organization estimates that 15.5 million children around the world are involved in domestic work in a home other than their own; 10.5 million of these children are involved in child labor as they are either under the legal minimum working age, or employed in hazardous conditions or conditions akin to slavery.In 2008, 61 percent of children in domestic labor were between 5 and 14 years of age; one-third were under age 12. Seventy-three percent of children engaged in domestic work are girls.

Child domestic labor is one of the most widespread and exploitative forms of child labor in the world. Child domestic workers help with the day-to-day tasks of running a household. These may include cooking, cleaning, caring for children or the elderly, gardening, running errands, and other tasks, as well as selling goods in the marketplace and on the street.These children may live with their employers or separately from them; they may receive financial remuneration for their work or “in kind” payment like food and housing. The hours are long, and many child domestic workers report that they are continually on-call.

The reasons children end up in domestic labor vary by country and region, but poverty is usually a major factor. Child domestic workers are often overlooked in attempts to protect child workers, partly because of the notion that domestic work is a “safe” form of employment. However, because these children work inside private homes, they are especially isolated and at risk for abuse.

According to the ILO, three-quarters of all children in domestic child labor perform hazardous work. This can include children working for at least 43 hours per week, working at night, and being exposed to physical or sexual abuse.

The ILO reports that significant numbers of child domestic workers are victims of trafficking, debt bondage, or servitude.Approximately 225,000 of these children work in Haiti’s restavek system, trapped in what amounts to forced labor and slavery.From the French words rester avec (“to stay with”), restavek children, usually girls, from poor rural backgrounds are given or sold by their parents to work as domestic servants for other families. ASI and Free the Slaves (FTS) report that restavek children are treated as sub-human, and are extremely vulnerable to exploitation as well as physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.

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Niger’s Wahayu Endure Domestic and Sexual Enslavement

By Sharon L. Fawcett, CLC Contributing Writer

Niger’s Tahoua region has a history of enslavement dating back to the early 18th-century arrival of the Touaregs, who brought slavery-like practices with them. Today, young girls and women sold as domestic and sexual servants are the victims of this centuries-old scourge.

Although the Nigerien government has maintained, since 2005, that slavery no longer exists in Niger, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (USDOL’s) 2013 Trafficking in Persons report and a joint report by UK-based non-governmental organization Anti-Slavery International and Niger-based Timidria, suggest otherwise. According to these reports, it is not uncommon for Nigerien girls to become the victims of human trafficking and forced labor.

In Niger, a girl born into slavery can be sold by her master as a wahaya (plural: wahayu) or “fifth wife” to a wealthy or powerful man in the country’s Tahoua region—or in northern Nigeria—for as little as $400 US (200,000 CFA).

While owning a wahaya is a sign of affluence, wahayu “marriages” are illegitimate because they do not comply with several of the Islamic rules for marital unions. Since they are illegitimate wives, the women “wed” to men through this practice also bear the name “fifth wives”—not one of the four legitimate wives permitted by Islamic practises in a nation where Muslim is the predominant religion.

A wahaya works without pay; she is enslaved in domestic and sexual servitude. Tikirit Amoudar, a 45-year-old who became a wahaya at age 10, described her experience to Anti-Slavery International and Timidria researchers:

My workload was heavy: fetching water for all the family; fetching water for livestock (over 100 cattle); hulling and pounding grain…for food and foodstuffs; providing firewood for the family; [making] large preparations [for] community gatherings in the master’s fields…; washing up; preparing the mistresses’ and the master’s beds; looking after the children and keeping the courtyard clean…

Wahayu face constant physical and verbal abuse from their masters’ legal wives, who may view them as competition. They also live in fear for the welfare of any children they may bear for their master, as these children are considered his legitimate offspring and represent a threat to the inheritance of his other children. The master’s legitimate wife, or wives, may attempt to eliminate those threats through kidnapping, sorcery, or even murder.

Niger’s young wahayu are among the 10.5 million children worldwide who perform domestic child labor. Eighty-three percent of the wahayu interviewed by Anti-Slavery International and Timidria researchers had been sold into this form of servitude before age 15.

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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.
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UNICEF: In Niger, children are forced to drop out of school to support their families

By Laura Huyghe [UNICEF]

NIAMEY, Niger, 20 April 2012 – Only a few months ago, 12-year-old Oumar Soumana was happily living with his family in Damana, in south-western Niger. But when the village’s food stocks were depleted – a result of the massive food crisis occurring throughout the Sahel region of Africa – he was forced to leave home and travel to the capital in search of work.

On a recent, sweltering day, Oumar walked down the dusty streets of Niamey carrying a cooler on his shoulder. Inside were ‘appolo’, small plastic bags filled with iced fruit juices, which he sells for a few CFA francs each.

“It is a painful job for me,” he said. “I spend the whole day walking. I do not really rest because I have to sell and bring the money back, otherwise my salary will be reduced, so I prefer to do the maximum.”

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