(I write this article with a heavy heart and a sore throat. I am very passionate about ending this practice).
Wahaya: A young girl or woman sold into slavery as an unofficial wife.
In Niger and the neighboring Nigeria, a man is legally allowed to have as many as four wives. However he can take a fifth or sixth ‘wife’ unofficially. ‘Fifth wives’ or wahaya are purchased either from parents or from their Tuareg masters. No ceremony is performed, just trade. Usually the girls are between the ages of 7 to 12; the younger the girl the higher the price. They are then forced to wear heavy brass ankle rings (pictured) and committed to a life of servitude, physical abuse, starvation and rape.
Some women are sold to different masters over the course of their lives. They are not allowed an education, their duties are to tend to their master’s livestock, raise their children, and care for the legitimate wives. Wahaya is not paid a salary, if released by their master they have nothing. Since they were never legally married, upon death of their master they receive no inheritance.
Research from the Anti-Slavery International interviewed 165 Wahaya and found that 83% had been sold before the age of 15.
Every year, an estimated 10 million girls under the age of 18 are married worldwide with little or no say in the matter. That’s more than 25,000 girls every day and 19 every minute. Every day girls are robbed of their childhood. Source: Girlsnotbrides.org
Hope for the future.
The Anti-Slavery International supports the Niger Schools Project. This project ensures that girls and women stay out of slavery by providing primary education, teachings on human rights and help provide small business loans with low interest rates to the mothers of students hoping to break the cycle of poverty and slavery.
Double edged sword.
There is concern that girls will soon be forced into marriage because of a perceived shortage of wives. When interviewed, a group of village women said that if a girl is not married by the age of 10 or 12, they risked being sexually abused by men. They view child marriage as protection for young girls. According to their beliefs, pre-marital sex and pregnancy are extremely shameful for a family, even if a girl has been raped. It is believed that men would not rape or abuse a married girl.
What you can do?
Former Wahaya women feel that awareness-raising campaigns is most effective in ending the Wahaya practice, because masters are worried about the legal implications of this practice. As the world becomes aware, laws are being created, and masters are somewhat forced to release any Wahaya they have and to stop future purchase. The hope is that Wahaya may leave their masters and assert their rights.
As usual I look forward to your comments.