On 5 March, the Niger Government is holding a ceremony that will mark an end to slavery throughout the country.But slavery continues elsewhere. It carries on as bonded labour, as early and forced marriage, as forced labour, as slavery by descent, as trafficking and as child labour. This has to stop.
At the ceremony, hosted by the National Human Rights Commission, being held near the Mali border in In Atès in Tillaberi, the chief of In Atès will announce that all of the slaves in his area will be free. This will free over 7,000 people, equal to 95 per cent of the area's population who are currently slaves; 5 per cent are masters.
At least 43,000 people are in slavery across Niger. They are born into an established slave class and are made to do all labour required by their masters without pay, including herding, cleaning, moving their master's tent to ensure he and his family are always in shade. The masters do nothing. Slaves are inherited, given as gifts and their babies are taken away from their mothers once weaned. They are denied all rights and choice.
"This is an historic step forward for Niger, but many challenges remain. The Government needs to ensure not only that the law is implemented but that there are the means of support available for former slaves and their children to live their lives in freedom and independence," Romana Cacchioli of Anti-Slavery International said.
The ceremony marks a first step in making the nomadic population -- slaves and masters -- aware of the recent criminalisation of slavery.
In May 2004 a new law came into effect making practising slavery punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The Government's move was in response to the publication of the first national survey of slavery, which was jointly carried out by Niger's pioneering anti-slavery organisation Timidria and Anti-Slavery International, the world's oldest international human rights organisation. The report established the extent and countrywide existence of slavery, having interviewed over 11,000 people, most of whom were found to be in slavery.
Participants of the ceremony will include: Niger's President of the National Commission for Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties Lompo Garba; Ilguilas Weila President of Timidria; members from each of the 19 groups led by the chief of In Atès, including slaves and masters; representatives from government ministries; and international organisations.
Link to Anti-Slavery International.