Last Updated 8 June 2021

Niger, is a landlocked country found in West Africa, which became independent from France in 1960. It is a unitary semi presidential republic. It provides minimal government services, and is often debilitated by droughts. Niger has now ranked 189 out of 189 countries for the third time consecutively in the 2020 Human Development Report.1

Over 98% of its approximately 22 million population is Muslim, the majority of whom belong to the Sunni branch of Islam – a small minority estimated at only 7% of Muslims in the country by the Ministry of the Interior are Shia. Some individuals are reported to combine animist practices of worshipping inanimate objects such as stones with their practices of Islam, though according to the 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom by the US Department of State, this has become less common over the last decade.2 Roman Catholics, Protestants and other groups comprise less than 2% of the population.

Niger is a member state of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Systemic Discrimination
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Constitution and government

The Constitution of Niger3 provides for a separated church and state (Article 3), a fact that may not be made the object of any revision (Article 175). While Article 8 further establishes that no religion or belief should be given greater favour or power stating that the Republic,

“respects and protects all beliefs. No religion, no belief can arrogate the political power or interfere in the affairs of State.”

Further, under Article 9, Political parties are not allowed to affiliate with a religion. However, upon their assumption of office government officials, including the President, are required to swear an oath before God and on their respective holy book that they will uphold the Constitution (Articles 50, 74, 89 and 124). Other senior government officials are also required to do so by law.4

The rights to freedom of worship and belief, expression, opinion and conscience are enshrined under Article 30, limited in the interests of “respect for public order, for social peace and for national unity.” The freedoms of assembly and association are guaranteed under Article 32.

Additionally, under Article 17:

“Each one has the right to the free development of his personality in its material, intellectual, cultural, artistic and religious dimensions, provided that he does not violate the rights of others, or infringe the constitutional order, the law or morality.”

While religious organizations must register with the Ministry of the Interior, this is largely a formality and there is no evidence that the government favours one religion over In June 2019, the National Assembly passed a law, which provides for government regulation and approval of the construction of places of worship, and oversight of financial contributions for the construction of religious venues.6

Education and children’s rights

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, and data is sparse concerning its education system. It is often reliant on charity funding and foreign aid to support its education programme, meaning there is little data analyzing its quality or whether it includes religious education.

Currently, the foundation of any private school by a religious association must receive the approval of both the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Education. Private Quranic schools that are established primarily to impart Quranic education without a focus on anything else remain primarily unregulated. However, most public schools do not impart religious education. Even so, the government funds a few special primary schools that are known as ‘’French’’ or ‘’Arabic’’ schools which include Islamic religious study as part of their curriculum.7

In October 2014 the Ministry of Education withdrew a trial sex education programme in schools after being pressured by Islamic Associations. These associations claimed sex education was “contrary to country’s values.” The programme included information about sexual and reproductive health, as well as romantic relationships and

Child marriage

According to UNICEF, an estimated 76% of women are married before the age of 18.9

Family, community and society

Freedom of thought, religion and expression are generally well protected in Niger. There are cases of infringement, but in a country which is over 98% Muslim with very low internet penetration, there is likely more unreported societal pressure against atheism. While there are few reported cases of religious violence, the government prohibits full-face veils in the Diffa Region under its state of emergency provisions, with the stated purpose of preventing concealment of bombs and weapons. Additionally, public proselytization by all religious groups is banned in order to prevent violent outbursts.10

The government reports that it continues to face a series of persistent and growing security threats from a jihadist terrorist group commonly known as Boko Haram. Armed terrorist groups, including Boko Haram and groups affiliated with al-Qaida, ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA), have reportedly attacked and killed both civilians and security forces.11;

Women’s rights

Under Article 21 of the Constitution,

“Marriage and family constitute the natural and moral base of the human community. They are placed under the protection of the State.

“The State and public collectivities have the duty to see to the physical, mental and moral health of the family, particularly of the mother and of the child.”

Abortion is prohibited under the law and punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine. Exceptions are only permissible due to fetal impairment or if the pregnancy endangers the health of the mother. Medical students, pharmacy students or employees, merchants of surgical instruments, nurses, masseurs, who have recommended, encouraged or practiced the means of procuring abortion face the same penalties and may be banned from practising their profession.12;

LGBTI+ rights

While consensual same-sex relations have been legal since 2006, same-sex marriage is not recognized and there are few protections from discrimination in law.13

Privilege… and tolerance

The Niger Islamic Council, a group of 10 high-ranking Muslims and 10 political leaders, was set up in 2006 to advise the government on issues of concern to Muslims. This certainly constitutes privileged access to political life, however the intention was to promote a moderate, tolerant form of Islam, in particular to counteract any extremism infiltrating the country from the surrounding region.

Religious Courts

In urban areas, “customary” courts exist which arbitrate on some civil matters, including marriage and inheritance. These courts are presided over by a legal practitioner, who is advised by someone with “knowledge of the traditions” and largely follow a form of Islamic Law, but all decisions made by the court can be appealed in the formal judicial

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of expression is guaranteed under the Constitution, however, Amnesty International reports that journalists and civil society activists have increasingly faced repeated arbitrary arrests over the last two years, particularly in the lead up to the general elections that took place in December 2020.15

A 2010 media law eliminated prison sentences for media offences, however Reporters Without Borders indicates that journalists are increasingly facing charges under the controversial Cybercrimes Law instead.16

Freedom of Assembly

While freedom of assembly is guaranteed under the Constitution, it is not always upheld in practice. Members of the police have been reported to use excessive force to break up protests and to target journalists covering them.17

In 2020, at least 15 civil society activists who organized a protest over procurement-related corruption were arrested by the authorities, and 6 were kept in detention.18;  Further, in February 2021, the police are reported to have failed to distinguish between peaceful protesters, children, and people committing acts of violence in its response to demonstrations protesting the outcome of the general election.19


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