2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Niger
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||19 June 2012|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Niger, 19 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe30ca53c.html [accessed 24 May 2013]|
NIGER (Tier 2 Watch List)
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 begging or forced labor within the country, as well as in Mali and Nigeria, by corrupt marabouts (religious instructors); these individuals, or other loosely-organized clandestine networks, may also place Nigerien girls into domestic servitude or 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. Nigerien girls reportedly enter into "marriages" with citizens of Nigeria and foreign nationals living in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, after which they are forced into domestic servitude upon arrival in these countries. 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. A small number of girls in forced marriages may be prostituted by their "husbands," and a larger number are exploited in the sex trade after fleeing their nominal marriages. 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 and sex trafficking. There were unconfirmed reports during the year that Chinese workers were forced to labor at a petroleum refinery in Niger. Niger is a transit country for men, women, and children from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, and Togo migrating en route to Algeria, Libya, and Western Europe; some may be subjected to forced labor in Niger as domestic servants, mechanics, welders, laborers in mines and on farms, or in bars and restaurants.
The Government of Niger does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government has not shown evidence of increasing efforts to address human trafficking compared to the previous year; therefore, Niger is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a third consecutive year. Niger was granted a waiver from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is devoting sufficient resources to that plan. During the year, the government took some steps to finalize a national legal framework to combat trafficking and the president spoke publicly about the government's commitment to pursue vigorous law enforcement action against slavery, child prostitution, exploitive child begging, and other forms of human trafficking. It was notable that this public proclamation explicitly referenced particular forms of trafficking and included a vow to apply severe penalties to traffickers, as senior Nigerien officials had previously exhibited an unwillingness to acknowledge the persistence of traditional slavery, and government efforts to apply criminal penalties to those who exploit others for compelled service have been virtually nonexistent.
Recommendations for Niger: Issue policy guidance to relevant agencies for full implementation of the anti-trafficking law; continue to respond to legal complaints filed by NGOs while increasing efforts to initiate investigations and punish trafficking offenders, particularly those guilty of slavery offenses, using the anti-trafficking law; hand down adequate sentences for individuals convicted of committing trafficking crimes, and enforce court judgments; train law enforcement and judicial officials throughout the country on the provisions of the anti-trafficking law and ensure the text of the law is widely distributed; in coordination with NGOs and international organizations, 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; develop systematic procedures to refer identified victims to protective services and support NGO partners in providing victim care; increase efforts to rescue victims of traditional slavery practices; 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; include civil society representatives in anti-trafficking policy discussions and ensure they are given a platform to provide meaningful input to policymaking decisions; allocate funding for the operation of the National Commission for the Coordination of the Fight against Trafficking in Persons and the National Agency for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons; and implement an initiative to raise public awareness about the new anti-trafficking law, specifically targeting vulnerable populations, and encourage victims to exercise their rights under the law.
The Government of Niger demonstrated weak efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases during the year, failing to implement its anti-trafficking law, Order No. 2010-86 on Combating Trafficking in Persons. This law prohibits all forms of trafficking, including slavery and practices similar to slavery, and prescribes a punishment of five to 10 years' imprisonment for committing trafficking crimes against adults. These prescribed penalties are sufficiently stringent, but not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law prescribes an increased penalty of 10 to 30 years' imprisonment when the victim is a child. The law defines slavery and practices similar to slavery and specifically prohibits exploitative begging. During the year, the law remained nonoperational, as it lacked the necessary guidance for its implementation. In March 2012, the government established, via decree, two coordinating bodies charged with developing Niger's anti-trafficking policies and guidance for implementing its laws, the first step toward making the anti-trafficking law operational. Other statutes prohibit some forms of trafficking, but were not used to prosecute cases during the reporting period. The country's pre-existing 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, and its labor code outlaws forced and compulsory labor in Article 4. The penal code's prescribed penalty of 10 to 30 years' imprisonment for slavery offenses is sufficiently stringent. The penalties prescribed in the labor code for forced labor – fines ranging from up to the equivalent of $48 to $598 and from six days' to one month's imprisonment – are not sufficiently stringent.
During the reporting period, the government investigated two suspected trafficking cases, but did not prosecute or convict any offenders, representing a decline in its efforts from the previous year. It continued to fail to identify cases and initiate investigations independently, and only took law enforcement action in a small number of instances after cases were brought to its attention by local NGOs. 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. In December 2011, police arrested five marabouts suspected of forcing children to beg, but released all suspects after two days in police custody. In the same month, the government reported arresting two additional suspected child traffickers who remained in pre-trial detention at the close of the reporting period; it did not provide details about the nature of the case. There were no reported developments in a 2010 case in which a man was accused of re-enslaving two former slaves, and information was not available on a slavery case pending since 2006, suggesting it is no longer pending. An NGO in Tahoua reported a small number of slavery prosecutions that have been ongoing for years remained pending, but no alleged traffickers have been detained. In one infamous case during the year, the government failed to initiate an investigation or prosecution against a marabout in Agadez who was known to be forcing 350 children to beg on the streets; some children remained in the custody of the suspected trafficker at the end of the reporting period. The government did not provide specialized training to law enforcement officers on the identification and investigation of trafficking cases, but foreign donors provided some training to officials. In September 2011, Nigerien officials met with counterparts in northern Nigeria to discuss cross-border trafficking, but this meeting did not yield discernible progress toward a bilateral MOU between the two governments. 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. There is no evidence of public officials' complicity in trafficking, though civil society representatives argued that judicial failure to focus adequately on slavery cases brought to their attention amounted to tacit complicity. No government officials were investigated, prosecuted, or convicted for involvement in trafficking or trafficking-related criminal activities during the reporting period.
The government undertook few efforts to protect trafficking victims during the year, and it relied almost exclusively on NGOs and international organizations to identify victims and provide them with services. Authorities did not develop or employ proactive measures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as women and girls born into traditional slave castes or children at worksites. Moreover, there were no formal procedures to guide officials in referring identified victims to protective services; police often did not know where to refer victims for care. The government provided medical assistance and temporary shelter in social service facilities to a small number of child victims and referred others on an ad hoc basis to local NGOs for care, but it did not provide services to adult victims or victims of hereditary servitude. The majority of victims were identified and cared for by NGOs without government involvement, and NGO capacity was inadequate. 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. The government and NGOs identified 490 victims during the year, 315 of whom were removed from situations of exploitation and some of whom received protective services and temporary shelter. In June 2011, local government officials worked with a local NGO and an international organization to rescue 175 children who had been subjected to forced begging by a marabout in Agadez; the children were returned to their families, but did not receive additional services. Due to a lack of funding, an additional 175 victims were not rescued during this operation and remained in the custody of the marabout. Recent reports indicate that, as a result of NGO awareness campaigns, additional children were removed from forced begging by their parents and relatives and returned to their villages, and only a small number of children remain at the marabout's school.
The government did not assist any foreign victims with repatriation to their home country during the year, and an NGO reported some repatriations were on hold due to a lack of funds or of government cooperation or both. The regional government of Agadez continued to operate a committee comprised of police and local officials to assist in returning Nigerien migrants deported from North Africa to their countries or communities of origin, though it did not make efforts to identify trafficking victims among this population. The government reported that adult victims would be encouraged to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases, though none were identified during the year. 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 may have led to some victims being treated as law violators. Front-line officials did not receive training to identify victims and refer 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 Government of Niger made some efforts to prevent human trafficking during the year. The president spoke publicly about his administration's commitment to combating human trafficking, including domestic slavery, and senior government officials provided remarks at anti-trafficking training sessions funded by international donors. In May and September 2011, the National Statistics Institute released studies on forced labor it produced in partnership with an international organization. There was no coordinating body for the government's anti-trafficking efforts during the year; the multi-stakeholder National Commission against Forced Labor and Discrimination discontinued its work due to a lack of funding. The National Commission for the Coordination of the Fight against Trafficking in Persons and the National Agency for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons, required by the 2010 law to develop and implement Niger's anti-trafficking policies, came into existence via an implementing decree in March 2012. The government did not, however, appoint staff or distribute funding necessary to make these bodies fully operational. During the year, the government drafted a five-year action plan to combat trafficking. It 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 this training.