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'Wahaya': Young girls sold into slavery

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.

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.  

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.

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Hadijatou Mani,  former WahayaHadijatou Mani, former 'Wayaha' that succesfully challenged Niger for failing to protect her from slavery.
Read her story

Wahaya women
Tabass was sold three times to three different masters over 12 years, the first time when she was just seven years old.
Read her story