United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Niger, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4e2e.html [accessed 22 July 2014]
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
After adoption of a new Constitution in December 1992, Niger conducted in early 1993 its first multiparty presidential and legislative elections since independence in 1960. In the presidential elections, which international observers judged to be free and fair, eight parties banded together against the party created by the former military rulers to elect Mahamane Ousmane as President of the Third Republic. Nine parties won representation in the National Assembly elections. The governing coalition, the Alliance of the Forces of Change (AFC), led by Prime Minister Mohamadou Issoufou, consists of six parties with 50 of the total of 83 Assembly seats. The former ruling party, the National Movement for the Development of Society (MNSD-Nassara), won 29 seats in the Assembly and now leads the opposition. The new Government moved quickly to address the Tuareg insurgency in the north, and in March reached a 3-month truce with the major Tuareg group, the Liberation Front of Air and Azawak (FLAA). The March truce led to an exchange of all prisoners and was extended in June for another 3 months. By September, however, the Tuareg rebellion had split into three principal factions only one of which, the Front for the Liberation of Tamoust (FLT), agreed to renew the truce for another 90 days. Despite the truces, some armed Tuaregs continued throughout 1993 to attack convoys and government outposts, raiding vehicles and taking food and fuel. By year's end, the Government was continuing efforts to engage the Tuareg factions in talks aimed at a comprehensive settlement offering greater regional autonomy. The main security forces consist of the army, the gendarmerie (rural paramilitary police), and the national police. The new Government experienced problems in maintaining control over the security forces. In July some of the same elements that mutinied in 1992 once again attempted an uprising, demanding rejection of the Government's budget austerity measures, payment of salary arrears, and implementation of longstanding proposals to reorganize the military. Supporters of the newly elected coalition staged large counterdemonstrations, and the troops returned peacefully to their barracks. Following the mutiny, the Government initiated disciplinary action, including loss of rank, transfer, and removal, of personnel associated with the mutiny. Upwards of 90 percent of the population depend on traditional subsistence farming or herding. Uranium mines produce the single most important export. Persistent drought cycles, low literacy rates, the declining demand for uranium, and burdensome debt have further weakened an already marginal economy. The Government's 1993 austerity budget cut the single largest expenditure civil service salaries, which comprise half the formal wage sector. The labor unions have been critical of the Government's program but at the end of 1993 had agreed to the reductions. Observance of human rights advanced with the introduction of a new Constitution, with free elections and the installation of a coalition Government, and with efforts to resolve the Tuareg rebellion, including delineating electoral districts in the National Assembly to ensure minority representation. Nevertheless, there continued to be serious human rights problems. In particular, during the fighting early in 1993, both government and rebel forces committed human rights abuses, causing some civilian deaths and property destruction. Moreover, while generally respectful of human rights, the transition government, which was in power in the first quarter of the year, made numerous attempts to intimidate or otherwise restrict its critics in the media. Some splinter Tuareg groups continued throughout 1993 to commit serious abuses, including killing noncombatants, but the Government's restrictive information policy in the northern security zone made precise information difficult to obtain. The Tuareg rebellion has been fueled in part by historical conflicts and by a centralized political system dominated by the more numerous Hausa and Djerma ethnic groups. Serious societal discrimination and domestic violence continue against women, who also lack educational and employment opportunities. The overloaded court system dispensed justice only very slowly with long pretrial confinement.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
The newly elected Government did not engage in political or extrajudicial killings in 1993. However, early in the year, under the transition government, there were reported instances of extrajudicial killing. In August 1992, military and paramilitary forces captured some 180 presumed Tuareg rebels in raids. Some of the 180 have never been accounted for and must be considered as having been killed extrajudicially. Similarly, Tuareg rebels took an undetermined number of captives early in 1993 who have disappeared and are presumed dead. Additionally, the conflict between military forces and Tuareg rebels in the north produced human rights violations resulting in a number of civilian casualties (see Section 1.g.). Early in the year, the local press reported that two policemen held by the rebels had died of malnutrition.
There were no reports of government-instigated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
There were no reports of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment inflicted by either the army or Tuareg rebels after the truce in March was signed. There were random instances of individual law enforcement or prison officers abusing detainees and prisoners, although such cases were much reduced from 1992. Reports of abuse by police or prison officials involve occasional instances of beatings of detainees or prisoners, usually those believed guilty of sexual offenses or crimes against persons.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The 1992 Constitution prohibits arbitrary detention. By law an arrestee must be either charged or released within 48 hours. In special cases the public prosecutor may authorize a 24-hour extension. However, in practice, if a police officer has failed to gather sufficient evidence within the detention period, the prosecutor gives the case to another officer, and a new 48-hour detention period begins. A case is not dismissed if the limits on detention are not respected. The judicial system is seriously overloaded; individual magistrates hear upwards of 400 cases per year. There are no statutory limits on pretrial confinement which frequently lasts months or even years. As many as 80 percent of prisoners in Niamey are awaiting trial. There are only two sessions of criminal court per year, lasting 2 to 3 weeks each. If an arrestee is finally judged innocent, compensation for unjustified detention may be awarded. Defendants are allowed to choose their own lawyer, and bail is available for crimes carrying a penalty of less than 10 years' imprisonment. Widespread ignorance of the law and lack of financial means prevent these rights from being exercised fully. In January the Government released 81 suspected rebel Tuaregs in Agadez for lack of sufficient evidence. In February the police in Zinder released an undetermined small number of detainees suspected of being rebels. Outside its effort to combat the rebels, the Government did not arrest people for their opinions. Shortly after national elections in March, the Government and rebels signed a 3-month truce which was renewed for a second 3-month period. The initial truce was followed by a general amnesty. All prisoners held by the Government and Tuareg rebels were released. In September the Government and the FLT, a Tuareg splinter group, extended the truce another 90 days. From March to September, the truce accords were largely respected by the main Tuareg factions, although attacks by splinter groups continued to occur. Since September only one Tuareg faction has agreed to a continued truce, and the frequency of reported attacks has increased. The Government, through French and Algerian intermediaries, has attempted to arrange talks with all the Tuareg factions aimed at a comprehensive settlement of the rebellion based on increased local government autonomy and economic development assistance to the northern region. The new Constitution prohibits the use of exile as a means of political control, and no instances of exile occurred.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The formal legal system in Niger derives from French law. Civil and criminal cases not involving security-related acts are tried publicly. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial, to confront witnesses, to examine evidence brought against them, and to present evidence of their own. The new Constitution affirms the presumption of innocence. Nigeriens can have cases involving divorce or inheritance heard by either a traditional chief or a customary court. Customary courts, located only in large towns and cities, are headed by a legal practictioner with basic legal education who is advised by an assessor knowledgeable in the society's traditions. The judicial actions of chiefs and customary courts are not regulated by code. Cases unresolved by chiefs or customary courts can be appealed to the formal court system. There are no religious courts. Minors and defendants charged with crimes carrying a sentence of 10 years or more are eligible to be defended by counsel at public expense, if they cannot themselves afford a lawyer. Lawyers comply with government requests to provide counsel in these cases but generally are not paid for their services. Defendants and prosecutors may appeal a verdict, first to the Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court. Both Courts are obligated to hear appeals. The Court of Appeals reviews questions of fact and law while the Supreme Court reviews only the application of the law. Nigerien law prohibits execution until the executive privilege of pardon is explicitly rejected. The Constitution stipulates an independent judiciary. In the departmental capital of Maradi, a judge dismissed a case brought by the Government against members of an opposition political party charged with organizing an illegal political rally. The judge ruled the Government had not complied with the law in attempting to suppress the rally and, therefore, the rally must be considered legal. The integrity of the courts, on the other hand, has been called into question by credible reports of judges being influenced by family or business ties. Official investigations continued into the 1990 and 1991 incidents in which government security forces killed civilians during political demonstrations. The Government promised that those responsible would be prosecuted, but by year's end there had been no arrests. The Government has the legal power to constitute a State Security Court to try high crimes against the State, but had no cause to call the Court into operation in 1993. Proceedings may be held in secret at the discretion of the Court, and the names of judges are not published. Due process provisions apply in the State Security Court. The newly elected Government launched an effort to combat illicit enrichment, corruption, and influence peddling. The Prime Minister instructed all ministers to ensure that their staffs were fully aware of the relevant provisions in the Penal Code. Shortly after the Prime Minister publicized the illicit enrichment campaign, the first arrests of officials accused of corruption were made in Maradi and Agadez. At the end of 1993, there were no known political detainees being held by the Government. In late 1993, the Government detained several persons for questioning for their alleged involvement in a plot to destabilize the Government. According to a police source, only one or two suspects remained in custody.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
By law the police are required to have a search warrant, normally issued by a judge. The law stipulates that the police may enter a home only between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., unless in hot pursuit. The police may search without warrants when they have strong suspicion that a house shelters criminals or stolen property. Evidence thus gained is fully admissible in court. Human rights organizations report that routine searches are often conducted without warrants and at all hours. There were no reports of interference with correspondence.
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts
Government security forces and rebel Tuareg groups engaged in sporadic skirmishes during the first quarter of 1993, and there were credible reports of violations of human rights. The Government established a security zone in the north, and journalists and others do not have ready access to the zones or to information. Therefore, the number of civilian casualties in the fighting was unknown, but incomplete reports indicated that there were several deaths. For example, in January a Tuareg commando killed nine people, including three members of the Republican Guard, in Abala. Also, in February there were reports that Arabs of the Tessara region, allegedly supplied with arms by government forces during the period of the transitional government, killed 13 Tuaregs at Intarikad. Despite the truce, splinter groups of rebels or bandits continued to attack civilian targets to obtain food, fuel, and other supplies, often resulting in deaths. In August a Tuareg raid left seven dead, four of whom were infants. To keep supply lines open to the north, the Government organized armed convoys. Although many of the attacks were attributable to banditry, others were attributable to armed Tuareg factions associated with the rebellion. The political goal of these attacks reportedly was to demonstrate the Government's vulnerability and inability to protect civilian populations. While there were no reports of government forces perpetrating acts of violence against noncombatants nor using excessive force against rebels after the March truce, human rights groups reported that the military used the security zone to obscure its activities from public scrutiny. The press was not expressly forbidden from the security zone but in practice seldom ventured there. The Government was reluctant to talk openly, much less publish detailed information, on the rebellion for fear that it would compromise the truce and stop further talks with the rebels.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution explicitly provides for the rights of free speech and press and makes permanent the Superior Council of Communication (CSC), created by the National Conference in 1991, to monitor communications policy. Although members of the CSC have been elected, it is not yet operational due to a dispute over who should represent the public press. Deputies speak freely in the National Assembly and openly criticize the Government. The most important medium in reaching the public is the government-operated national radio service. It disseminates information in eight languages, including programs to explain the meaning and function of democracy. The national radio service covers opposition activities, and there is no progovernment bias in its programming. In addition, the Government publishes the daily Le Sahel, as well as a weekend edition in French. Several private newspapers came into existence bringing to eight the total number of French and Hausa-language weekly papers. During the transitional government's rule, there were numerous attempts to intimidate the media, including a recommendation by the Minister of Interior that publications be deposited with the Government 48 hours before their distribution. The recommendation was never implemented, however. The newly elected Government made no attempts to intimidate or interfere with the media. In fact, the media criticized the Government and even published interviews with Tuareg leaders after they were released from incarceration. When the official daily failed to cover labor's views, several independent weeklies carried full explanations of labor's reasons for opposing the Government's economic austerity program. While Niger boasts an active association of editors of private newspapers and an association of female communications professionals, some journalists did not always substantiate their stories. As a consequence, several government officials, including the former Prime Minister, brought suits against journalists for defamation or libel. The courts found several journalists guilty of libel and in one case awarded the plaintiff $1,000, a large sum for a financially fragile independent newspaper. However, there did not appear to be a pattern of high officials routinely bringing suits to intimidate the press or inhibit press freedom. Academic freedom is respected.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of assembly and association was exercised without hindrance. The Government retains the authority to deny permission for demonstrations under tense social conditions or if notice is not provided to public authorities at least 48 hours in advance. However, permits are routinely granted. Demonstrations are free to use loudspeakers, pamphlets, signs, and other means of mass communication and openly criticize high officials, including the President. There were several incidents testing the transitional and new Governments' commitment to free assembly. Security forces used tear gas to disperse several demonstrations: in January to disperse a demonstration demanding that the Government find the finances to save the school year; in April to halt a political rally protesting the election of the Prime Minister when demonstrators invaded the National Assembly; and in August in Maradi to disperse a demonstration against the mayor. In the Maradi incident, the authorities made a dozen arrests and wounded three after the crowd was sprayed with tear gas. The Government claimed that the march organizers did not wait the mandatory period and consequently jailed them for 5 days. They were released when a judge ruled that the Government had acted illegally in banning the demonstration. The organizers have since sued the mayor saying they were illegally arrested at night. Under the Constitution, Nigeriens may form political parties of any kind, except those that are based on ethnicity, religion, or region. Eighteen political parties formally registered to participate in the 1993 elections.
c. Freedom of Religion
Niger's population is over 90 percent Muslim. Despite the objection of certain Islamic groups, the new Constitution defines Niger as a "nonconfessional" State. The right to practice other religions is respected. Christians Catholic, Protestant, and Jehovah's Witnesses as well as Baha'i, practice freely and establish houses of worship and schools. Conservative Muslim leaders printed denunciations of Baha'is, calling them heretics. Foreign missionaries live, work, and travel freely in Niger but must be members of an internationally recognized organization and register as a Nigerien association. Dozens of such organizations operate in Niger. Only a very few have ever been denied permission to work. Violence inspired by religious differences between the mainstream Tijaniyya Muslims and the purist Izala sect continued to occur. In August a marabout (Muslim religious leader) of the Tijaniyya was killed, and many believed that members of the rival Izala sect were responsible. An Izala marabout was detained for questioning but was ultimately released.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
In general, freedom of movement is not restricted. Among the Hausa and Fulani people in eastern Niger, however, many women are cloistered and can leave their homes only if escorted by a male and usually only after dark. Security forces at checkpoints monitored travel of persons and the circulation of goods, particularly in and near major population centers. Attacks by rebels or bandits on vehicles traveling on major routes to the north severely restricted movement. Neither emigration nor repatriation is restricted. There are currently 3,605 Chadians (mostly women and children) in eastern Niger being supplied food, medical assistance, and educational fees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In addition to Chadians, Niger is host to some 4,000 Malian Tuaregs who, according to the UNHCR, will soon gain refugee status in order to be repatriated to Mali with international assistance. Niger also hosts a small number of Togolese, Rwandese, Burundian, and Zairian refugees. There were no reports of forced repatriation of refugees.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Citizens exercised this right in early 1993 in parliamentary and two rounds of presidential elections. Citizens aged 18 years and over enjoy the franchise. Just prior to the elections, in December 1992, citizens voted overwhelmingly (by nearly 90 percent) to accept the new Constitution establishing the Third Republic. It sets forth a system of checks and balances, with a strong Presidency, an 83-seat National Assembly, and an independent judiciary and enumerates 30 specific civil liberties. A close working relationship has been established between the Presidency and the Prime Minister, and the coalition Government has functioned well, despite a deteriorating economic situation. Women do not traditionally take part in political decisionmaking. Nevertheless, the new coalition Government appointed 5 women to ministerial positions in a 28-member Cabinet. Women's organizations and other human rights groups conduct educational campaigns aimed at increasing the participation of women in the political process. The traditional practice of husbands voting their wives' proxies was widely used during the National Assembly elections and the first round of presidential elections. The attempt by some men to vote for as many as four wives caused the Electoral Commission to tighten up on the use of the proxy before the second round of presidential elections. Human rights groups seek to eliminate the practice of men voting the proxy of their wives. The Electoral Commission (made up of officials and private citizens appointed by the Government) drew electoral districts to ensure that minority ethnic groups (Toubou, Fulani, Tuareg, and Arabs) would be fairly represented. Citizens elected members of each group to the National Assembly.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Independent human rights groups and associations addressed human rights concerns without governmental hindrance. Several organizations are active: the Nigerien Association for the Defense of Human Rights; Democracy, Liberty, and Development; the National League for Defense of Human Rights; and Adalci ("Dignity" in Hausa). In addition, there are women's groups and the Network for the Integration and Diffusion of Rights in the Rural Milieu (known as "Ridd-Fitila"). Human rights organizations acted mainly through public declarations, private demarches, and articles and appeals in the press to try to raise public awareness of human rights issues. The International Committee of the Red Cross is active in Niger and had access to Tuareg detainees and rebel-held hostages during the transition period. Amnesty International has visited without government hindrance to examine human rights practices.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, social origin, race, ethnicity, or religion.
Despite the Constitution, the deep-seated traditional belief in the submission of women to men results in discrimination against females in many areas, including in the political process (see Section 3), in education (see below), and in employment and property rights. The situation is particularly discriminatory in rural areas where women do much of the subsistence farming as well as the child-rearing. For example, when the transitional government appointed the first female prefect (governor), the local citizens objected so strenuously that the appointment had to be rescinded. Women do not enjoy equal legal status with men. For example, while the head of household has certain legal rights, divorced or widowed women, even with children, are not considered the head of their household. With the draft family and rural codes now under consideration by the National Assembly, women's rights groups are attempting to strengthen women's rights in inheritance, land tenure, and child custody, and in particular to end the practice of repudiation. This latter practice permits the husband to obtain an immediate divorce without having further responsibility for the wife or children. While tradition strongly inclines employers to favor men as employees, there is a small, but increasing, number of women professionals. About one-third of the doctors, perhaps 10 percent of magistrates, and 24 percent of the civil service are women serving mostly at the lower ranks. The first female police officers and soldiers were widely publicized in the popular press. Still, even in urban areas, women remain severely underrepresented in middle and high-ranking positions, in both the public sector and the formal private sector. Domestic violence against women and children is widespread, though neither the Government nor women's rights groups have firm statistics on its extent. Women's groups report that wife beating is common even in upper social strata. Families often intervene to prevent the worst abuses, and women may (and do) divorce for physical abuse. While women have the right to seek redress in the customary or modern courts, few do so out of fear of the stigma of being labeled a bad wife. Furthermore, the majority of women are economically dependent, and to speak out is to risk immediate divorce by repudiation. Women's rights organizations report that prostitution is often the only economic alternative for a woman who wants to leave her husband. There were isolated incidents of violence against women attributed to religious motivation. Some extremists physically abused African women wearing Western clothing because a religious leader had blamed the failure of the rains on immoral women.
The Government's responsibility to children is reflected in the Constitution which provides that the State's public services must be directed to promote the physical and moral health of the family, particularly the mother and children. The Government focuses its limited resources on programs which support women and children. In addition, public education through grade six is mandatory and free. Child labor is strictly limited by law. Cultural discrimination against females starts early. The vast majority of young girls are kept home to work. Only about 25 percent of children of primary school age actually attend school and about 60 percent of those finishing primary school are male. Young girls rarely get more than a few years of formal schooling. As a result, the male literacy rate is 18 percent; for females it is 7 percent. Families of young girls enter marriage agreements on the basis of which girls are sent at the age of 10 or 12 to join their husband's family under the tutelage of their mother-in-law. Female genital mutilation (circumcision) has been condemned by international health experts as dangerous to both physical and mental health. In Niger it is limited to one small ethnic group.
Ethnic minorities Tuareg, Fulani, Toubou, Kounouri, and Arab assert that the far more numerous Hausa and Djerma ethnic groups discriminate against them. The new Government has attempted to address this issue by providing for greater representation in the National Assembly (see Section 3) and by other measures, such as providing schools and clinics in the remote parts of the country. Still, nomadic peoples Tuaregs and many Fulani continue to have less access to government services, largely due to their nomadic way of life. The Hausa with about 50 percent of the population, and the Djerma with about 21 percent are sedentary, mostly urbanized, peoples who have historically dominated commerce, the professions, and the civil service.
People with Disabilities
The Constitution charges the State with responsibility for the handicapped. In the formal economy, the handicapped (except occasionally those crippled by polio) are rarely employed. The education of those with special needs is beyond the means of an underfunded educational system. There is neither legislation mandating accessibility for the disabled nor the financial means to implement such regulations.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The right of workers to establish and join trade unions has been practiced since the 1940's and is codified in the new 1992 Constitution and in the Labor Code of 1962. However, 90 percent of Niger's work force is employed in the largely subsistence agricultural sector, which is not unionized. In the industrial sector, the labor federation, the National Union of Nigerien Workers (USTN), comprises 42 unions representing about 70 percent of the 60,000 salary and wage earners in Niger. The vast majority of its membership is made up of government employees, i.e., civil servants, teachers, and employees in state-owned corporations like the national electrical utility. The USTN and the Teachers Union (SNEN) have stated policies of political autonomy, but all unions have informal ties to political parties. Labor challenged the Government on a wide range of issues, notably in 1993 on the reductions in the government budget. Several unions representing professionals and high-level civil servants remain unaffiliated with the USTN. In addition, there are a hundred or more trade associations which are required, like unions, to file their bylaws with the State and must refrain from overt affiliation with any political party. The Constitution provides for the right to strike. A minimum 3-day notice is required, and the motives for the strike must be listed. The security forces and police are prohibited from striking. In 1993 the USTN called a series of strikes by public sector employees over back pay of up to 4 months. There were general strikes for 2 days in June, 3 days in July, and 5 days in September. In the July and September strikes, the USTN also protested the Government's austerity budget and its planned deep cuts in civil service salaries. In the 5-day September strike, the USTN demanded smaller salary cuts and a reduction in the number of ministerial portfolios. Late in the year, doctors and medical workers (all state employees) and the national electrical utility went on strike, each for a few days. All these strikes were legal, and the Government did not attempt to suppress the strikes or punish strikers. Employer retribution against strikers is prohibited. By the end of 1993, the National Assembly delayed further consideration of a new labor code, including new provisions regarding civil servants' right to strike, until March 1994. Features of the draft law include: mandatory conciliation before a strike could be legal, 7 days' notice before a strike could begin, and docking pay for the days civil servants are on strike. Private sector workers already have their pay reduced for days out on strike. The USTN is a member of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity and abides by that organization's policy of having no formal affiliations outside the African continent. However, it enjoys assistance from some international unions, and individual unions, such as the Teacher's Union, are affiliated with international trade secretariats.
b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively
In addition to the Constitution and the Labor Code, there is a Basic Framework Agreement, negotiated by the USTN's predecessor, employers, and the Government, which has been in force since 1972. The Agreement defines all classes and categories of work, establishes basic conditions of work, and union activities. In the private, public, and state-owned enterprise sectors, unions widely used their right to bargain collectively with management without government interference for wages over and above the statutory minimums as well as for more favorable work conditions. Collective bargaining exists in the public sector. However, since most organized workers are government employees, the Government is actually involved in most bargaining agreements. The USTN represents all workers in the bargaining, and labor/management agreements are applied uniformly to all employees. The Labor Code is based on International Labor Organization (ILO) principles and protects the right to organize and prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers. Labor unions reported no such discrimination in 1993. A Ministry of Labor official acts as a binding arbitrator in certain circumstances defined by law, such as reductions in force or firing of a union delegate. In addition, the Government is involved in negotiations to resolve strikes. There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Labor Code prohibits forced or compulsory labor, except for legally prosecuted prisoners.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Child labor in nonindustrial enterprises is permitted by law under certain conditions. Children under 14 must obtain special authorization to work, and those aged 14 to 18 years are subject to limitation on hours (a maximum of 4.5 hours per day) and types of employment (no industrial work) so that schooling may continue. Employers are required by law to ensure minimum sanitary conditions for working children (and women). Law and practice prohibit child labor in industrial work. Child labor laws are enforced by the labor inspections of the Ministry of Labor. In practice, child labor is practically nonexistent in the formal (wage) sector. Instead, economic necessity forces children to work in the unregulated agricultural, commercial, and artisanal sectors, usually for an immediate relative. Often the only alternative for urban children to working under Niger's difficult economic conditions is begging in the streets.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
A minimum wage for salaried workers of each class and category is established by law. The lowest minimum is about $70 (18,000 CFA Francs) per month. Additional salary is granted for each family member and for such conditions of work as night shifts and required travel. The minimum wages are not sufficient to provide a decent living for workers and their families. Most households have multiple earners (largely informal commerce) and rely on the extended family for support. The legal workweek is 40 hours. However, certain occupations involving irregular hours are authorized longer workweeks, with a maximum of 72 hours. The Labor Code also establishes occupational safety and health standards enforced by the Ministry of Labor inspectors. Because of staff shortages, however, inspectors focus on safety violations in the mining, building, and industrial sectors. Although generally satisfied with the safety equipment provided by employers, citing in particular adequate protection from radiation in the uranium mines, unions say workers should be better informed on the risks posed by their jobs. Workers who remove themselves from dangerous work are likely to be fired, with no legal right to be reinstated.