Gold ankle bracelet shaped like a bangle

Ankle bracelet from Niger, modern day. International Slavery Museum.


It’s pretty, this little bracelet. Looks like many bangles I see young girls wearing. Would you want to wear it?

You only have to sign away your life.

This ankle bracelet was worn by a girl slave in Niger. And she lived within your lifetime.

Originally collected by Anti-Slavery International, it belonged to one of the girls they interviewed. Of those girls, 43% were sold between the ages of 9 and 11. 83% were slaves before their 15th birthday.

Though slavery is banned in Niger, it continues due to a lack of political and legal enforcement against human trafficking. The girl was probably a child bride (called wahaya) from the Tahoua region. She was an unofficial wife, forced into a life of sexual and domestic slavery. Girls like her have been taken or sold into slavery since the 1770s, as a way for poor parents to relieve their burdens. The transaction takes place in absolute secrecy, and the typical asking price for a young girl is $300 to $800 U.S. dollars. For the price of an iPhone, you can have a young wahaya for life.

Men view purchasing young girls as a sign of prestige. The girls are treated poorly. They have no legal rights, and are typically given a straw mattress and the equipment needed for their work. They are never allowed to leave the home, except to work in the fields or with livestock. Their work is endless: fetching water for the family and livestock, hulling and pounding grain, providing firewood, preparing meals, cleaning house, preparing beds, and looking after the children.

Many are forced into sexual relations with their owners as soon as they reach puberty, continually raped and forced to have the children that result. Several who were interviewed reported being mistreated by their master’s legitimate wives, who see them as competitors. Because a wahaya‘s children are considered legitimate, legal wives will attempt to kill a wahaya‘s children.

The girls wear a heavy brass ring like this one to signify their status.

You don’t want to wear it now, do you?

-Tiffany Rhoades
Program Developer
Girl Museum Inc.

You can learn more about the real lives of wahaya in this report from Anti-Slavery International.

For more on human trafficking and slavery, visit our exhibition, Girl for Sale, produced in partnership with the American Poetry Museum.

This post is part of our 52 Objects in the History of Girlhood exhibition. Each week during 2017, we explore a historical object and its relation to girls’ history. Stay tuned to discover the incredible history of girls, and be sure to visit the complete exhibition to discover the integral role girls have played since the dawn of time.

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