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Human trafficking in Niger
Niger has experienced slave-based exploitation due to the border crossing between it and Libya, a key launching point for human traffickers. However, the Nigerien borders are not the root issues. A Nigerien anti-slavery organization, Timidria, found that various Niger officials, who the country chose to combat human trafficking in Niger, may have slaves in their own households.

Overview

Ilguilas Weila, a Niger native, founded Timidria in 1991. Together with Anti-Slavery International, Timidria has been standing at the forefront seeking to protect more than 40,000 lost, unidentified and identified victims of inherited slavery and trafficking. This is its printed testimony:

“It clearly emerged from this review that the failure of slavery prosecutions had less to do with litigation itself than to external elements, particularly the influence of traditional chiefs and social hierarchies on judges’ decisions and disputations between customary and statutory law.”

This is a credible statement depicting the Nigerien government’s failure to identify, prosecute and convict traffickers, as it has failed to identify the ones among them.

Timidrias’ Success

In 2003, the anti-slavery organization gained much praise for its contributions to the Nigerien Anti-Slavery enacted Law 2003-25. Timidria also promoted efforts to fund a governmental 2019 Child Protection Committee in each commune in order to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. In 2019, Niger’s supreme court ruling also declared wahaya, the traditional practice of selling and trading young girls as fifth wives, an illegal act in 2019. Unfortunately, the news is yet to reach the majority of Nigerien citizens, a concern that left many victims trembling. Critics report that the government has made no efforts to identify and prosecute families who practice such practices.

What Makes Niger Vulnerable to Human Trafficking?

Niger underwent conflicts relating to the criminalization of traditional slavery that wealthy Tuaregs most invoke, some of whom serve in government seats. This includes Prime Minister Rafini who shares a Tuareg descent although no indication claims that he practices slave-ownership. The Tuareg tribe participates in various traditional and slave-based practices against children. A known practice is wahaya where little girls become trafficking victims by ending up in marriages as fifth wives or slavery. Meanwhile, talibés are young boys who traffickers place in slavery and extreme labor such as mining and cattle herding. Despite the 2003 slavery abolition, Timidria adduced that “children in {descent-based} slavery are considered to be the property of their master and face a lifetime of forced, unpaid labour and abuse.” Out of the thousand Wahaya crimes that underwent identification over the years, Timidria is only aware of one single conviction.

Government’s Role in Human Trafficking in Niger

The anti-slavery organization stated that “the implementation of the law criminalizing slavery has been inadequate and prosecutions for slavery are rare. Government alliances with the religious and political elites among the Tuareg tribes (traditionally slave-owning) is the root cause of Niger’s vulnerability.” The current President of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, and current Prime Minister, Brigi Rafini have both been in office since April 2011, serving 10 years as lawmakers. The 2020 Human Development Index ranked Niger at the bottom of the list caused by Niger’s late criminalization of slavery.

Similarly, reporters have described events involving seeing “women displaying the heavy brass anklets they had been forced to wear to prevent them from escaping.” Oftentimes, these women’s knowledge of laws and rights is limited in their areas, especially with no education or help in sight.

The Niger government has strained the workload of Timidria by the failure to identify government officials’ role in slavery-ownership. Despite this, Timidria is present all throughout Niger. It has over 680 offices in villages and camps, 182 offices in rural and urban communities and a growing legal team among its 300,000 members and supporters. This makes it crucially important for the organizations, with or without government assistance, to raise awareness of slavery that lingers underneath the heavy stigma of oppression.

– Ayesha Swaray
Photo: Flickr

Anti-slavery Efforts in Mauritania
Mauritania, described in a CNN documentary as “Slavery’s Last Stronghold,” was the last country in the world to formally abolish slavery. Arrests for protesting slavery and lax punitive practices have shown Mauritania’s long list of subsequent anti-slavery legislation to be merely lip service. Still, recent attention and a growing frequency of successful prosecutions hint at incremental progress and intersectional anti-slavery efforts in Mauritania.

The Situation

Since outlawing slavery in 1981, Mauritanian officials have publicly denied any presence of the practice in their borders. In spite of these claims, data that independent observers collected shows that slavery is still prevalent: the Global Slavery Index (G.S.I.) estimates that 90,000 Mauritanians live in modern slavery, a figure likely lower than reality because the government obstructs all efforts to study the practice.

Mauritania ranks sixth on the G.S.I’s Prevalence Index, behind North Korea, Eritrea, Burundi, the Central African Republic and Afghanistan. Other estimates, from local sources, claim that as much as 20% of the population lives in slavery.

Because the Mauritanian government has categorically denied the existence of slavery, efforts to measure or sanction the practice have made slow progress. Major sites like the Washington Post claim that there are no reliable statistics on how many people are enslaved due to government obstruction and cultural norms that make measurement difficult. In fact, Mauritania’s census does not count enslaved people. Slavery did not receive criminalization until 2015, and Mauritanian courts have largely neglected to prosecute individuals accused of enslavement.

SOS-Esclaves and Anti-Slavery International

Still, anti-slavery efforts in Mauritania have seen small victories of varying impact. SOS-Esclaves, joined by Anti-Slavery International, filed a successful lawsuit in 2016 that served two former slave masters a five-year prison sentence and forced them to pay significant compensation to two victims. They won a similar conviction in November 2019, but the defendants appealed their sentence and remain free. The most recent win came on July 9, 2020, when courts served two former slave masters 10 and 15-year sentences and ordered the state to assist them in attaining citizenship. Because a lack of citizenship is one of the greatest obstacles to former slaves’ self-sufficiency, NGOs have touted this latest ruling as a significant victory.

The increasing frequency of these legal wins suggests incremental but steady progress in anti-slavery efforts in Mauritania. Other wins highlight the intersectionality of the issue. Alongside the first two successful convictions in 2016, successful appeals downgraded the charges of two anti-slavery activists who peacefully protested slavery, allowing them to walk free. According to the think tank Freedom House, convictions like these are common obstructive tactics that the government uses. Mauritanian courts frequently convict individuals for activism and inhibit a free press: “journalists risk arrest for reporting on sensitive topics,” and the government “continues to arrest antislavery and antidiscrimination activists.”

The Challenges

Non-governmental organizations’ efforts to stop slavery are beholden to a political system that actively opposes their cause. In turn, Mauritania’s government has resisted international pressure to reform. In January 2019, the United States terminated its trade agreement with Mauritania, citing forced labor practices and government retaliation against peaceful activism.

Further, the Sahara Desert covers 90% of Mauritania’s territory, making only 0.2% of Mauritanian land farmable. In Mauritania’s southern deserts, slavery and poverty deeply intertwine. Masters allow many enslaved families to live and farm on their own but the families have to give up a portion of their harvest each time their masters visit. When people manage to escape, they often gather in desert villages called adwaba where food and water are scarce, and conditions of poverty mirror those of their previous lives. The region’s harsh climate and lack of resources make it extremely difficult to flee abuse or find better circumstances.

Anti-slavery efforts in Mauritania are also battling against ingrained racial distinctions. A majority of slaves are the descendants of dark-skinned people who lighter-skinned Arab Berbers captured centuries before. In interviews, slaves claim that they lack representation in a government filled with lighter-skinned Mauritanians.

Ways to Abolish Slavery in Mauritania

Slavery in Mauritania deeply ties to the country’s cultural, political and geographic roots. The makers of “Slavery’s Last Stronghold” argue that substantively abolishing slavery in Mauritania means addressing the deep poverty that many dark-skinned Mauritanians face. In one interview they conducted, a former slave who had suffered beating and rape by her master nonetheless described him as a benevolent relative because “he also made sure she was fed in a country where many die of hunger.”

The approach that they and local anti-slavery organizations advocate addresses not only slavery but also the issues at its roots: poverty, famine, lack of citizenship or legal rights, obstructions of justice and persecution of activists. Further, slavery rests at the intersection of race, gender, poverty and geography in Mauritania. Successfully prosecuting slave masters brings about slow and incremental progress that inconsistent rulings, which the African Union Court condemned in 2018, still undermine. Anti-slavery efforts in Mauritania encompass improvements in criminalization, but they also extend the other areas mentioned. All they are missing is unity and resources.

– Skye Jacobs
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Child Labor in Africa
Many are moving to eradicate child labor in Africa by 2025. According to The International Labor Organization of the United Nations (ILO), child labor defines any hazardous work depriving children of their childhood and their education. Africa is the continent with the highest child labor rates at 72.1 million children to date. However, it has also seen an increase in awareness and a shift toward eradicating the practice. Below are 10 facts about child labor in Africa and the progress people are making to eradicate it.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Africa

  1. Eradicating Child Labor: One in five children is employed against their will in quarries, farms and mines. However, efforts to eradicate child labor have been valiant in areas such as building schools, supporting agricultural cooperatives, advising farmers on better production methods and paying farmers more for production.
  2. Child Labor End Date: Sub-Saharan Africa employs 59 million children between the ages of 5 and 17, according to the ILO. Eradication initiatives such as Alliance 8.7 proposed 2025 as the desired end date of child labor in Africa. For example, Uganda, Tanzania and Togo have made progress by training 25 child ambassadors and providing education to child labor employers on the negative impacts of employing children.
  3. Hazardous Work: In Africa, 31.4 million children are in hazardous work including forced labor, prostitution and working in mines. There are 168 million children globally in farm labor, 98 million in agriculture and 12 million in manufacturing. The largest commodities that child labor produces are gold, tobacco, banana, sugarcane, cotton, rubber and cocoa.
  4. The Cocoa Industry: In 2015, the U.S. Labor Department reported that over 2 million children worked on cocoa farms in West Africa. Chocolate companies like Mars, Hershey and Nestle have signed a deal to end the use of child labor in their chocolate production. Additionally, Fairtrade America offered farmers more money for certified cocoa, cocoa that farmers produce without child labor, to prevent child labor and alleviate poverty.
  5. The Harkin-Engel Protocol: According to Fairtrade and World Bank, farmers in Africa receive $1,900 and that amount is well below the poverty line for a typical family. Moreover, 60 percent lack access to electricity and UNESCO states that the literacy rate is only 44 percent. The Ivory Coast signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol to monitor and account for people involved in child trafficking, and eliminate child labor in the cocoa industry.
  6. Child Labor and Crises: Countries experiencing crises have the highest number of child laborers. These countries might experience challenging circumstances such as unemployment, lack of social services and extreme poverty. Alliance 8.7 elects the efforts and focus that delegates of the African Union, U.N. agencies and government officials’ support in combating social and economic issues.
  7. Child Labor and Family: Most child laborers do not receive pay and many often work on family-owned farms or companies because their families cannot afford to send them to school. Children often must work in communities suffering conflict, especially in the case where the main breadwinner dies. The Foreign Affairs Committee is working on legislation to address child labor and supply chains.
  8. Child Labor Ages: Fifty-nine percent of child laborers are between the ages of 5 and 11, 26 percent are between 12 and 14 and 15 percent are between 15 and 17. In a 2018 survey, a Tulane University Researcher found that people who were not the children’s parents brought at least 16,000 children to West African farms. Reports also stated that 40 percent of Burkina Faso children are without proper birth records and for that reason, no one has been able to identify them.
  9. Child Laborers Under 5-Years-Old: Child laborers under the age of 5 have also grown in number and they face hazardous work conditions as well. For example, they might spend the day doing hard manual labor such as swinging machetes, carrying heavy loads and spraying pesticides.
  10. Solutions: A better understanding of how people should implement policies and revise them are among the discussions taking place toward ending child labor. The Harkin-Engel Protocol, The United Nations, the United Kingdom Modern Act, Barack Obama’s Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, Anti-Slavery International and the African Union Action Plan are all commitments in place to end child labor and modern-day child slavery. Barack Obama’s Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act is to prevent imports from entering the U.S. that child labor has produced, while the African Union Action Plan aims to eliminate child labor in Africa altogether.

These 10 facts on child labor in Africa are examples of the progress toward eliminating child labor by 2025. Continued efforts in preserving the well being of children in Africa shows the nation’s determination in the total eradication of child laborers. Oversight and accountability will continue to play an integral part in its success.

– Michelle White
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Modern Slavery in India
India, with a population of approximately 1.29 billion people, is the world’s second-largest country. The South Asian nation currently has the third-highest overall GDP in the world. However, though it ranks third in overall GDP, India’s GDP per capita is considerably lower. This ranks India as 156th out of all the countries in the world. Certainly, a number of factors affect this disparity between national wealth and individual economic hardship. That said, one thing is certain: with an estimated 21.9 percent of the population living below the poverty line, India’s lack of wealth distribution feeds directly into the intersection of poverty and modern slavery in India.

Slavery is Still Prevalent

Many may not be familiar with the fact that slavery is still a very real issue in countries like India. This is because it simply does not receive the same media coverage as other topics. Slavery is quite prevalent in present-day India, especially in rural areas that heavily rely on agriculture. In fact, according to estimates by the Global Slavery Index, approximately 18.3 million people are living in modern slavery in India. This staggering number represents a portion of the many impoverished people in India who are trying to emerge from their socioeconomic situation.

Vishnu Rao-Sharma, a student who frequented New Delhi, gave The Borgen Project some insight on poverty and modern slavery in India. Rao-Sharma recalled that “Poverty in India is so jarring because of how visible it is. Within just miles of the New Delhi airport, one is plunged into a devastating reality that is foreign to many first-time visitors. This reality consists of mangled limbs, emaciated bodies, and rotting teeth. No one is spared. Indian men, women and children are all prone to India’s seemingly inescapable poverty.”

Lack of Other Options Leads Indians to Become Slaves

The issue with combating poverty and modern slavery in India is that they both affect each other. This is why so many poor people in India have few options to survive. Rather than living on the street and begging, they have little choice but to enter into realities like bonded labor. Bonded labor, one of the most common forms of modern slavery in India, is most similar to many people’s idea of indentured servitude. This is a service agreement in which employers bind laborers to them. They work long, arduous hours in exchange for food, shelter and small sums of money. The lack of sufficient employment opportunities leaves many impoverished Indians with no choice but enter into modern slavery. This feeds right back into the cyclical nature of poverty and modern slavery in India.

Fighting Poverty and Slavery in India

Though India’s poverty and slavery situations may appear dismal, there are groups and initiatives focused on resolving such issues. For instance, the international organization GlobeAware fights poverty in India by sending people to help the poor. Another example is Anti-Slavery International, a group committed to eradicating all forms of modern slavery around the world. Organizations such as these are working tirelessly to try and improve the dreadful conditions for many people in India.

Since the issues of poverty and modern slavery in India are so interwoven, organizations around the world are working to free India from both. Eliminating even one would hopefully result in the elimination of the other issue. If more groups, like the aforementioned, could invest time, money and resources into improving living conditions in the nation, the outlook for the situation in India should improve. Viable solutions may not be so far down the road after all.

– Ethan Marchetti
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Child Labor in Niger
Niger, a country in Western Africa, is one of the most impoverished nations in the entire world. While its economy is growing, many children enter harsh jobs to provide for their families. Here are 10 facts about child labor in Niger.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Niger

  1. Niger has the highest fertility rate in the world. On average, a woman from Niger will have around seven children. The high fertility rate has led to consistent population growth and large family sizes. It is quite common for large families in Niger to hire underage girls as housemaids where they receive poor treatment and make as little as $6 a month. According to UNICEF, “three out of five girls are working in an environment considered as prejudicial to their health and development.” The high fertility rate has led to consistent population growth and large family sizes which makes it difficult for families to sustain themselves solely off their own farming.
  2. The main form of agriculture in Niger is subsistence farming, however, only 11 percent of the land is arable. Even the arable land is extremely dependent on rainfall, with droughts leading to widespread food shortages. When food becomes scarce, Nigerien children, like 12-year-old Oumar Soumana, must drop out of school and look for work to support their families: “It is a painful job for me… I spend the whole day walking. I do not really rest because I have to sell and bring the money back.”
  3. Roughly 48 percent of Niger’s population is 14 or younger. Niger’s population is increasing so fast, its median age is an alarming 15 years old. Food production is not matching the increasing population of Niger. Lack of consistent rainfall makes it very difficult for rural families to avoid malnourishment. When it does rain, families use their children for labor to try and maximize their food production. This is back-breaking work includes hand planting seeds in rough soil during extreme heat.
  4. According to a report by UNESCO, 42.9 percent of Nigerien children between five and 14 are working instead of going to school. This, coupled with only 70 percent of children in Niger completing elementary school, greatly limits their educational opportunities. Article 23 of Niger’s constitution provides free public education, but experts claim that instituting compulsory education would help keep even more children in schools.
  5. The insurgent Islamist group Boko Haram has contributed to Niger’s child labor crisis with its kidnapping of Nigerien children. Boko Haram uses children mainly for menial labor like cooking and cleaning, but in the past, they have used children for suicide bombings. While Boko Haram agreed to stop using children in 2017, there are still thousands of children missing. Additionally, children who formerly worked as child soldiers receive discrimination at an alarming rate.
  6. Many of the children who do not attend school and enter the workforce experience harsh working environments. “Uneducated, these children grow up in very miserable conditions: long working hours, low wages, no food. Furthermore, they run the risk of becoming victims of prostitution, discrimination, abuse, etc.” Additionally, children whose parents did not register them at birth and “lack the appropriate official papers, are not recognized as members of society and cannot exercise their rights.” These children are severely unprotected from life-threatening situations because their rural families were not aware of Niger’s birth registration law.
  7. Part of the reason why child labor in Niger is so prevalent is that the government either lacks regulation prohibiting these practices or it fails to adequately enforce its laws. In 2017, Niger took a significant step forward in combatting its child labor crisis by increasing the minimum age for hazardous work to 18 and increasing the number of jobs under the hazardous label. People under 18 can no longer work at jobs like quarrying, mining, welding and construction.
  8. While article 14 in Niger’s constitution outlaws forced labor, ethnic minorities like the Touaregs have a history of enslavement. Certain Nigerien traditions effectively endorse child slave labor. Whether it be the purchasing of young girls to serve as fifth wives or Wahaya, or koranic teachers forcing their pupils to beg on the streets and surrender their earnings, slavery is still prevalent in Niger.
  9. Niger is not ignoring the unfortunate truth that slavery still exists. With the help of the group Anti-Slavery International, Niger has successfully prosecuted men engaging in the fifth wife practice. This group also joined forces with a local Nigerien organization called Timidria and opened six elementary schools for descendants of slaves.
  10. These 10 facts about child labor in Niger illuminate the issue of child labor that the country must solve. Social programs funded by the Nigerien Government and other nongovernmental organizations like UNICEF are attempting to combat the crisis. In 2017, both of these groups ran 34 centers tasked with providing “food, shelter, education, and vocational training to street children, many of whom are victims of child labor.”

While most of these 10 facts about child labor Niger are disheartening, there is evidence that the situation is improving. For instance, a 45-year-old Nigerien woman named Tatinatt was a slave for the majority of her life, but today she is free and her youngest children are the first ones in her family who are attending school instead of entering the workforce. Hopefully, exposure to this crisis will galvanize more groups into focusing their resources on ending child labor in Niger.

Myles McBride Roach
Photo: Flickr

anti-trafficking organizations
Countless organizations around the world, big and small, conduct efforts to combat human trafficking in all of its forms. Here are three anti-trafficking organizations trying to make a difference and give hope to the millions of victims and survivors of this heinous transnational crime.

1) Anti-Slavery International

Based in the United Kingdom, Anti-Slavery International has been working to combat slavery since 1839 and this year is celebrating its 175th anniversary. Originally called the Anti-Slavery Society, it focused on emancipating slaves in the British colonies, Americas and the Caribbean in order to bring an end to the Transatlantic Slave trade.

Anti-Slavery International continues to combat modern slavery through advocacy, public outreach, education and its many campaigns. Some of its current campaigns include projects to combat trafficked labor in the Thai fishing industry, pass legislation that seeks to protect domestic workers around the world, end the chocolate industry’s role in child trafficking in the Ivory Coast and eradicate forced labor in the cotton industry of Uzbekistan.

Successes from its campaign activities include the passage of an International Labor Organization Convention on Domestic Labor, a European Union Human Trafficking Directive and the establishment of legislation criminalizing the use of forced labor as a form of trafficking in the U.K.

2) International Justice Mission

The main purpose of the International Justice Mission is to protect those in poverty from fear of violence which they are disproportionately subjected to due to a lack of legal protections throughout many justice systems in the developing world.

IJM works to protect the poor from violent people through partnerships with local authorities who help carry out four projects: rescuing victims, bringing criminals to justice, restoring survivors and strengthening justice systems. IJM’s method works as a three-phase program called Justice System Transformation.

The first phase focuses on the victims of trafficking: IJM works with local actors to rescue and restore victims of trafficking while at the same time bringing to justice those who perpetrate the crime. The second phase focuses on working with local actors to reform justice institutions so that they better address human trafficking and other forms of violent crime related to slavery. The third and final phase involves monitoring operations to support the continuation of just responses to slavery related crimes in countries with newly reformed justice systems.

3) Love146

The foundation of Love146 begins with a heart-wrenching story about the co-founders’ journey to Thailand and the child slavery they saw undercover in a brothel. The campaign is named after one particular girl they witnessed in the brothel, numbered 146, who refused to give up the fight against the crimes being committed against her.

Love146’s main focus is to combat the trafficking and exploitation of children. Their mission statement explains, “We believe in the power of Love and its ability to affect sustainable change. Love is the foundation of our motivation.” Their love and human compassion approach is composed of four interconnected programs.

The first program, which focuses on caring for survivors, involves the operation of safe houses in regions where child trafficking is prevalent within which victims can fully recover and reintegrate into society as healthy and prosperous adults.

The second program consists of prevention education programs which seek to educate children in at-risk areas about trafficking operations, how to spot traffickers and what to do to avoid being caught up in and how to report human trafficking rings.

The third program revolves around training professionals who frequently work with children, such as teachers, in learning how to spot trafficking victims, how to report these crimes and how to help victims who they may come into contact with.

The last program is an advocacy effort to empower those who fight against human trafficking through greater coordination and organization in order to more effectively combat the highly organized criminal trafficking network.

 Erin Sullivan

Sources: Love146 1, Love146 2, Love146 3, Love146 4, Love146 5, Love146 6, International Justice Mission 1, International Justice Mission 2, International Justice Mission 3, Anti-Slavery International 1, Anti-Slavery International 2, Anti-Slavery International 3, Anti-Slavery International 4
Photo: LoveGreater