Muslim men are allowed to have 4 wives under Islamic law. Many take slave girls as "fifth wives".
After a ten year battle, a top court in the Republic of Niger, a West African country, ruled earlier this year against the Muslim practice of taking a "fifth wife," also called "wahaya." This brings a legal end to a barbaric form of slavery in Niger, in which thousands of young girls have long and cruelly suffered as sex and domestic slaves.
While Muslim men are legally allowed under Islamic law to have four wives, many in Niger buy slave girls, most under fifteen years of age, as non-legal "fifth wives." These men may have also multiple "fifth wives." Wealthy men, it was reported, buy such "wives" as a sign of prestige. And while one anti-slavery activist states the exact number of "fifth wives" is unknown, it is "very common" in some areas of Niger.
The "fifth wife" slave girls are made to work long hours in the fields, herd animals perform domestic chores and forced to have sex with their masters in a form of concubinage. Masters can also arrange the girls' marriages without their consent. As non-legal wives, these young girls are also subservient to the legal wives and made to perform domestic chores for them. And perhaps most terrible of all, any children these slave girls bear belong to their masters who can dispose of them as he wishes.
All slaves are black Africans, whose ancestors were captured in slave raids and who "remain trapped in hereditary slavery." Black African slaves among the Tuaregs are called "black Tumacheqs" (after the language spoken by the Tuaregs)."
At age 12, Meni was sold for $412 dollars to a Hausa.
"I was negotiated over like a goat," said Meni of the transaction that deeply affected her personal fate.
As a "fifth wife" slave for her new master, Meni performed all the hard-labor tasks mentioned above. And as his sex servant, she was forced to bear him three children.
"I was beaten so many times, I would run to my family," said Meni. "Then, after a day or two I would be brought back. At the time I didn’t know what to do, but since I learned slavery had been abolished I told myself I will no longer be a slave."
Slavery had been abolished when Niger was a French colony. But an independent Niger only abolished and criminalized it in 2003. One anti-slavery activist said this was only a "charm offensive to please westerners." Everything, apparently, stayed the same on the ground.
Slave children also work in Niger’s gold mines. Boys are also sometimes castrated, an old Islamic practice. Slave masters are also reported to sometimes separate slave children from their parents at a young age to break the parent-child bond.
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