Modern Day Slavery in Mauritania

Compared to when slavery was legal in a majority of the world (the 1800s to put a date out there), we as a global community have come a long way. Despite our development and our ability to put a McDonald’s in almost every country, we still have not managed to abolish slavery once and for all. Yes, it is illegal and yes, extremely varied economic and political climates have major influence over the amount of slavery in each country. Yet the actions that are taken both nationally and internationally, from citizens to political leaders, are not currently significant enough to eliminate slavery.

Slavery in Mauritania

It is unimaginable to think that slavery still exists in modern day society. It is even more unimaginable to know that slavery in some countries, such as Mauritania, only abolished slavery recently. Mauritania did not abolish slavery until 1981 and slavery itself did not become a crime until 2007. With a population of 3.4 million, 10% to 20% are still in slavery (340,000 to 680,000 persons). To be honest, seeing this statistic deeply saddens me. How slavery still exists in 2012 completely baffles me. Mauritania is still plagued with such a substantial amount of slavery despite its criminalization and there is no concrete end in sight.

Unfortunately, obtaining a full and comprehensive picture of slavery in Mauritania is difficult due to the large number of people in slavery. Enslaved persons are all treated differently by their masters, but generally slavery includes torture, rape, imprisonment, and a wide variety of mental/physical abuse.

Villages only for slaves have been built in order to continue enslavement even after a master no longer has use for a slave. Masters keep an eye on the slaves they send to these villages, whether it is the masters themselves or informants hired to ensure the slaves stay put. No barrier prevents these slaves from escaping, but most do not attempt to leave these slavery-only villages due to the fear instilled in them by years of abuse and torture. Since slaves are not given the education they need, escape seems impossible for many as they know no other way of life. For those who risk their lives for freedom, this freedom can short-lived as some individuals who claim they will help and employ these former slaves end up re-enslaving them.

There is still inspiration and hope in Mauritania – One Woman’s Epic Journey to Freedom

Though hope is bleak that slavery will be eradicated in the near future, the stories of former slaves who escaped inspire me to believe. The story of Moulkheir Mint Yarba reported in CNN Freedom Project’s Slavery’s Last Stronghold was particularly touching. Moulkheir was born into slavery and it was the only life she knew. Since slavery and trading slaves separates families so frequently in Mauritania, Moulkheir never knew her mother and barely knew her father.

Moulkheir Mint Yarba; an inspiration. Photo: Edythe McNamee, CNN Freedom Project

Her first master abused her daily, forced her to work endless hours in the fields tending to the animals, and as soon as she hit puberty, began raping her frequently. Moulkheir bore several children under her master, all of them being products of her master’s rape and born into slavery. For most of her life, Moulkheir did not know any different life; she believed her master knew what was best and that her life was normal. There was no end in sight, no possibility of freedom. This made rescue attempts difficult for SOS Slaves when they first attempted to rescue Moulkheir and her children.

The first rescue attempt failed simply because Moulkheir refused to leave her master. Since this was the only life she knew, she could not imagine a life outside of her slavery. Thankfully SOS was not willing to give up that easily. The second attempt to rescue Moulkheir and her children was successful as they were able to stage a fake public rescue which would threaten to reveal the conditions Moulkheir and her children were living in. Since her master feared that this rescue could reveal his horrific treatment of Moulkheir, he cooperated with the rescue and even gave her goats as he sent her on her way.

However, Moulkheir’s taste of freedom was brief. She and her children were directed to a former colonel in the Mauritanian army who was supposed to employ her and her children. Instead, he re-enslaved them. Here Moulkheir suffered worse abuse than with her former master; her children were attacked and her daughters were raped. At one point, Moulkheir’s daughter, Selek’ha, was impregnated by their master. When their master found out, he drove Selek’ha in the back of a truck down a bumpy road at extremely high speeds to force a miscarriage. After this, Moulkheir and her daughter decided to plan their escape. This final rescue, facilitated by SOS Slaves, gave Moulkheir and her children the freedom they never had. Though Moulkheir seeks justice and action against her former masters, no judge has taken her case at this point in time.

Moulkheir’s story inspires hope and is only one of many. To read more stories and fully understand the breadth of slavery in Mauritania, I highly recommend that you read CNN Freedom Project’s Slavery’s Last Stronghold and that you take the time to watch the documentary The Long Path to Freedom (listed within Slavery’s Last Stronghold).

Author’s Note: I need to acknowledge that slavery exists all over the world (including the United States), despite the fact that it is illegal, criminal, and a violation of human rights. There will be PLENTY more to come on the topic so please, follow the blog or just check back whenever you can. The more we know, the more we can do to help.

Ways to Get Involved:
There is always something more you, the reader, can do. Donate to an organization battling modern-day slavery such as Free the Slaves or SOS Slaves (through Anti-Slavery International’s website). Volunteer. Educate. Share your stories. Simply raise awareness in your community about modern-day slavery. The ways to get involved are endless.

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