'Wahaya': Young girls sold into slavery
|“Before I belonged to my master, I just had to obey him. I could never make suggestions, I was just a thing, a multi-purpose object to be used at any time, however and wherever."|
Tikirit Amoudar, 45, former slave
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.
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.
|“My life is a waste and I am not respected in the village, especially in the little house where I’m isolated from everyone. The master’s children call me ‘bouzoua’ (slave) they only rarely call my by my real name, by accident."|
Tast Aikar, 45, a wahaya for over 20 years
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 our report on 'Wahaya' practice
The Niger Schools Project
that Anti-Slavery International supports helps ensure that girls and women stay out of slavery and that they won’t be sold by their masters as 'wahaya'. The project provides primary education, teaching on human rights and small business loans with low interest rates to the mothers of pupils, giving them and their children hope for the future and freedom from their former lives. Click here to read more about the schools and make a donation to ensure the schools can stay open through the current food crisis.Read about Hadijatou Mani, former 'Wahaya' who challenged the Niger state for failing to protect her - and won.
Personal 'Wahaya' Stories:
Talak inherited her slave status from her parents who were captured in a raid by Tuaregs against their village. She was 10 years old when she was sold to a slave master. “I grew up in my master’s compound, so I was under his control. I was never allowed to go out and play with the children from the village, and I never had the time anyway. My work load was awful, unimaginable and the physical and psychological abuse was hellish and inhumane.”
She was responsible for all the domestic work, getting water from the well, gathering firewood, washing up, washing clothes, cleaning, caring for the children and looking after the animals. She received very little, if any food and spent most of her days starving. Her master would regularly beat and rape her and she still bears the scars from this. “He showed me no mercy. He considered me to have no soul. He would have sex with me quickly and secretly, without my consent of warning. He would use me for pleasure while hate burned in my heart. It was this that made me leave my master’s home.”
Tabass was sold three times to three different masters over 12 years, the first time when she was just seven years old. One of the masters she belonged to had seven other wahayu, four of them having children by the master. Tabass and the others did all the domestic work and cooking for the master and his legitimate wives. Their master would often refer loudly to the fact he had bought Tabass to remind her of her slave status. When the family travelled to visit relatives, Tabass had to prepare the horses and follow behind the family on foot, carrying the children on her back over long distances. “We had to carry out orders from the master and his wives. Night and day were just the same; each moment that passes brought more work. Only speed and skill in carrying out orders allowed us to avoid the master’s punishments, especially if he was angry at us because of the tales his legitimate wines had been telling him. When this happened we’d be called ‘chegiya’, which means ‘bastard’, or ‘bouzoua’ - ‘useless slave.’”