|Former slaves face economic hardship, often with continuing financial dependence on their previous masters.|
Mauritania only made slavery illegal in 2007
By Mohamed Yahya Ould Abdel Wedoud and Jemal Oumar
Mauritania criminalised slavery in 2007, but the effects of the practice continue to linger. Many former slaves are often left with little to no property and no source of income.
The Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) announced August 4th that a new case of slavery was discovered in the capital. A young girl was being held, even though the country abolished slavery in 1981. The owner was summoned to a police commission, but was released, together with the girl, after 24 hours of detention.
The move prompted IRA head Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid and scores of his supporters to protest opposite the police commission and to clash with police who responded with tear gas and batons to disperse them. At least 11 people, including the IRA head himself, were injured. Nine activists were later indicted by a Mauritanian court for an unauthorised protest.
"Since my childhood, I used to live with my masters in one of the eastern cities of the country where I was working as a maid," said Mbarke Mint Mahmoud, a 50-year-old mother of five, living in dire poverty in a Nouakchott slum. "However, in the beginning of 2007, the family of my masters abandoned me under the pretext that the state no longer accepted the possession of salves and that they may be punished under the law."
Mint Mahmoud recalled her dark memories from the various poor neighbourhoods in Nouakchott. "I engaged in different manual work so as to win a living, no more and no less. For the time being, I don't own a piece of land where I can live, and I don't have a salary or anything else," she said.
"The future doesn't mean anything to me," she concluded while sitting at the door of an eroded cottage witness to years of deprivation and desperation. "Life is difficult and I expect it to be even more difficult in the days ahead given the high prices and the spread of unemployment."
Social analyst Mohamed Ould Salek said that Mint Mahmoud's case was just one of "hundreds of former Mauritanian slaves who found themselves trapped between the hammer of past slavery and anvil of indifference on the part of state and society".
Mohamed Lemine Ould Mahmoudi was once imprisoned for reporting on right of a young slave to be emancipated. He served more than a month in a Rosso jail, but he continues to cover a practice that he said "is still ongoing in Mauritania".
"Yet, it is certainly not with the same degree of severity as compared to the past before rights groups co-ordinated their efforts to combat it," Ould Mahmoudi added.
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