Niger: 'Wahaya': Young girls sold into slavery


In Niger and Nigeria, men who want more than their legally permitted four wives are buying women and girls to use as ‘unofficial’ wives. These women are resented by the ‘legal’ wives and face a life of endless work, cruelty and attempts to flee in destitution in the hope of starting a new life, according to a new Anti-Slavery report.

In Niger and neighbouring Nigeria a practice of slavery still operates where women and young girls are sold into sexual and domestic slavery as the unofficial wives known as ‘wahaya’. Girls from the ‘black Tuareg’ group are sold by their Tuareg ‘masters’ to wealthy men, including religious leaders, from the Hausa ethnic group in Northern Nigeria, who view the purchase of young women as a sign of prestige.  

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Photo: Anti-Slavery 2014

Once sold the girls are known as 'wahaya' or ‘fifth wives’ – because they are additional to the four wives legally permitted in Niger and Nigeria. Yet no actual marriage ever takes place and their status and role is far lower than that of the official wives. They are treated solely as property and have none of the legal rights of a wife. Typically sold from between £200 and £500 ($300-$800), 43% of the girls interviewed for an Anti-Slavery International report were sold between the age of nine and 11 years old and 83% were sold before the age of 15. It is common for the ‘master’ to force sexual relations with the girls as soon as they reach puberty. The girls are also forced to work without pay, never allowed to leave their family home apart from to work in their master’s fields or take livestock to pasture. Many are also forced to wear a heavy brass ankle ring to signify their slave status.

'Wahaya' not only face regular rape and physical abuse from their master but are constantly mistreated by the legitimate wives, who view 'wahaya' and any children they bear as competition to their own interests. 

Read the full report by Galy Kadir Abdelkader and Moussa Zangaou: Wahaya: Domestic and sexual slavery in Niger