Slavery has a Complex Legacy in Niger

There are still tens of thousands of enslaved people across Niger, according to Anti-Slavery International and Timidria; some estimates put the number as high as 130,000.

Most are descendants of people who were enslaved generations ago, living and working on the land of their ancestral “masters”, like serfs in Tsarist Russia.

Wahaya is one of the most prevalent forms of bondage in Niger. It is a system through which wealthy men and traditional leaders buy girls for sex and domestic work for as little as £200.

Today wahaya is mainly practised in a southern region near the Nigerian border Timidria refers to as the “triangle of shame”. The tradition allows men who have the maximum of four wives permitted by Islamic law to take on concubines known euphemistically as “fifth wives”.

Founded in 1991, Timidria has offices in every region of Niger and relies on a network of volunteers to identify victims of slavery.

It also visits villages, informing enslaved people of their rights and helping them bring lawsuits against their enslavers.

It has set up several centres for former slaves and their children. These efforts have met stiff resistance. The organisation has been accused of fraud and terrorism, and several of its staff have spent time behind bars.

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