There are an estimated 155,600 people in modern slavery in Mauritania – this is equivalent to 4% of the entire population
Mauritania has the highest prevalence of modern slavery in the world; an estimated four percent of the population are enslaved. Slavery is entrenched in Mauritanian society, and its prevalence is perpetuated by tradition.1 Also known as hereditary or chattel slavery, slave status is inherited generation to generation and is deeply rooted in social castes and the wider social system.
White Moors are descendants of Berber Arab settlers who came to Mauritania in the 11th century, and for centuries have held the majority of political and economic power despite being the minority group in the country.2 Black Moors are descended from sedentary black ethnic groups along the Senegal River who were historically raided, enslaved and assimilated by the Berber Arabs.3 While many Black Moors have long since left slavery, many remain under the direct or indirect control of their traditional masters.4 Those owned by masters often have no freedom to own land, cannot claim dowries from their own marriages, nor inherit property or possessions from their families.5 Slavery is practised on a lesser scale by the other ethnic groups in the country (including the Peulh and the Soninke), who are collectively known as Black Mauritanians.6 However, the majority of those still enslaved in Mauritania are Black Moors.
The majority of Mauritanians rely on agriculture and pastoral activities. Enslaved men and children typically herd camels, cows, and goats, or are forced to work in the fields.7 Enslaved women perform domestic chores, such as fetching water, gathering firewood, preparing food and caring for their master’s children.8
Women and girls are highly vulnerable to early marriage, with this form of slavery comprising an estimated 35 percent of marriages in the country.9 To a lesser extent, women and girls from neighbouring countries including the Gambia and Mali are exploited for labour and sex in the homes of wealthier Mauritanians.10
Religion and slavery are closely interrelated in Mauritania. Religion is often used by masters as justification for ownership over another person.11 Activists say some Imams (Islamic religious leaders) continue to speak in favour of slavery in mosques, particularly in rural areas.12 There have been cases of Talibes, boys who attend Koranic school, being forced to beg on the streets. Forced begging is practiced primarily by Black Mauritanians.13
|Score||Survivors are supported||Criminal justice||Coordination and accountability||Attitudes, social systems and institutions||Business and government|
While the Government of Mauritania has some legislation to address modern slavery, exploitation of citizens continues due to a ‘deliberate and systematic failure’ of the government to enforce laws.14 In March 2013 the President of Mauritania established the National Agency to Fight against the Vestiges of Slavery, Integration, and Fight against Poverty (Tadamoun) which outlined a National Plan of Action.15 In March 2014, the Plan was formally adopted, and a special Tribunal to prosecute crimes of slavery established.16 Since its formation, the Tribunal has not prosecuted any cases of slavery and field sources suggest there is no evidence that such a Tribunal exists.17 The National Action Plan also has a budget of $US3.3 million,18 although there is evidence that Tadamoun had not yet conducted any activities by June 2014.19
The Ministry of Social Affairs operates five shelters, exclusively for children20 and adult victims are referred to other government run shelters. In 2012, the government for the first time allocated $15,000 to an NGO to assist victims of slavery.21
Limited victim assistance, a lack of awareness of anti-slavery laws, and the institutionalised acceptance of slavery by police and judges makes it very hard for victims to seek justice. Under the existing law, victims must file complaints themselves. However, many victims are uneducated and illiterate, and legal complaints are almost never pursued.22 These and other difficulties are reflected in low levels of investigations and prosecutions under the relevant laws.23 In 2011, the first and only person convicted for slavery was imprisoned, however the sentence was only for six months.24 Despite this unprecedented conviction, the Government has not pursued prosecutions for slavery crimes since.25
Advocacy and awareness to address hereditary slavery is slowly building momentum in Mauritania. Prominent anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeid drew attention to the issue through his candidacy in the June 2014 Presidential elections.26
|Slavery policy||Human rights||State stability||Discrimination||Development|
Although slavery is outlawed, it remains strongly embedded in Mauritania’s social structure.27 Due to its hereditary nature people born into families as slaves become caught in an isolating system perpetuated by a lack of education and knowledge of life outside of servitude.28
The ancestral and psychological nature of slavery in Mauritania means it is not uncommon for masters and slaves to form bonds29 which can hinder efforts to shift the traditional cultural mindset that slavery is acceptable.
- Amend Article 15 of the 2007 Slavery Act to enable national human rights organisations to act as the legal agent in slavery cases.
- Conduct a nation-wide awareness campaign on the 2007 anti-slavery law and forms of modern slavery that persist in Mauritania today.
- Focus on removing and addressing barriers to access to justice for victims, including through allowing NGOs to assist victims to file complaints.
- Clearly mandate and task one central unit of law enforcement with responsibility for investigating, and reporting quarterly on progress of investigations of slavery.
- Increase support for victims by establishing a victim-support mechanism, with emergency shelter and assistance, legal assistance and reintegration programmes for both adults and children.
- International businesses should not engage in trade with Mauritania until there is evidence that the government is actively making progress against the National Action Plan.
- Any business trading in Mauritania must ensure they have complete transparency and control over all their activities including support activities and services.
- Draft a clause to include in contracts of major cattle and goat exporters, prohibiting the purchasing of livestock that has been sourced from farmers using forced labour in their herding practices.
"I grew up working for a family. I was born into the family – my mother worked for them before me. It was hard work. I had to go out and look after the goats in the day and then come back and do all the housework. I didn’t always get enough to eat. I was hit and beaten regularly. I had children and they all grew up working for the family too. Two of my girls are the daughters of the master’s eldest son. He said he would behead me if I ever told anyone it was him..."
Moulkheir’s story, told to Anti-Slavery International
In “Slavery in Mauritania”, Anti-slavery, accessed 11/09/14: http://www.antislavery.org/english/slavery_today/descent_based_slavery/slavery_in_mauritania.aspx
See where Mauritania ranks in Sub-Saharan Africa