Over 800,000 People Are Still Under Slavery

Andrei Tapalaga

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Picture of Fatimatou and her daughter Mbarka, former slaves in 2018 (Credits to Seif Kousmate/Hans Lucas)

Freedom has become to be the most important factor within modern society and there are millions of people that work towards sharing the importance of freedom and the suffering it has caused for those who lacked freedom in the past.

The United Nations formed in 1945 to make sure that peace is kept around the world but most importantly that all human beings are free. The organization has been working since its formation to abolish slavery in the third-world countries that still practice it during the 21st century.

Mauritania found in the West of Africa is known as the last country to abolish slavery in 1981, something that has been informed by the UN. However, even 40 years later, these rules are not respected as Mauritania still allows people to own slaves without anyone stopping them…

What caused this problem?

Photojournalist Seif Kousmate visited Mauritania to see for himself if the rumors were true. What shocked him the most wasn’t the fact that slavery was still conducted in the 21st century, but the fact that those under slavery were actually somewhat ok with it.

So was every citizen that lived in Mauritania. Some of the citizens he interviewed, which included former slaves and actual slaves at the time, stated that slavery was something embedded in their culture as it had been practiced for decades.

Slavery became predominant in Mauritania during the French colonization in 1830, something that certainly affected the country. However, even if slavery wasn’t abolished in the country until 1981, the French offered Mauritania their independence in 1960.

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Center market in Mauritania (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

For many years people simply had to get used to being held under slavery, in most cases due to poverty. Every time the Mauritanian government is asked about this they deny that slavery is still being performed in the country even if local rights groups estimate that almost 20% of the Mauritanian population is under slavery. With a population of four million citizens, this means that 800,000 of them are slaves.

The country has become so used to slavery that they cannot abolish it. In an interview with some slaves, Seif Kousmate was told by them that they are better off as slaves because they at least get food and shelter. As much as poverty pushes these people into becoming slaves it is not ok.

Only a small minority of the population is actually forced into slavery, whilst most of that 20% do it because they have nothing else do to in order to survive.

Slavery has become something so normal to them that they are even passing it down into the family. The actual slave status is inherited from mother to child. This means that the problem is even bigger than the world thinks as young generations are being indoctrinated with slavery as being something that is part of their culture rather than teaching them that it is not right.

Corruption is another major problem that caused this as the authorities to no surprise support slavery and even detain those that are against it.

Experiences of former slaves

It is imperative to mention that these people under slavery aren’t only forced into intense labor, but also face sexual abuse. Such things have been mentioned by former slaves who have been interviewed by the photojournalist.

Many of them have been liberated with the help of small anti-slavery groups whilst others with the help of the UN. It is sad to say that some of them returned to slavery because they simply didn't have anything to eat.

The photo that you saw at the top of the article was of Mother Fatimatou and her daughter Mbarka which are both former slaves. Fatimatou mentioned that she had lost two babies because she was forced to go to work right after giving birth, never being allowed to look after her children.

She was freed by an organization named SOS Slaves in the 1990s. From her perspective, it seems that slavery is only becoming worse, mainly because of poverty. She also mentioned in her interview that she was born in a family of slaves and the status has been passed on by her mother.

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The Haydel family in front of their tent next to their master Sheikh Ouled Mohammed's house. (Credits to Seif Kousmate/Hans Lucas)

The photojournalist also managed to take a picture of people enslaved and their living conditions before being arrested and detained by the local police. This just goes to show the level of corruption that goes on in the country. The government knew that they would risk condemnation from other nations if they did not let him go.

Besides this, I would explain the picture but I think it speaks for itself. It is absolutely mind-blowing to think that slavery is still occurring even in the 21st century. Even as I write this article I am still baffled.

Fighting Slavery

There are small anti-slavery groups within Mauritania that are trying to help these people become free once again and put an end to slavery. When fighting slavery, those who enslave people are the ones who have a lot of power and influence in Mauritania and they end up torturing these activists.

Other organizations, like SOS Slavery, are still trying their best to fight slavery in Mauritania but they cannot go against the power of the corrupt government.

What angers me is that the world seems to not care about modern-day slavery, treating it as if it is normal. The world also seems to focus on how slavery has impacted the world in the past whilst maybe not realizing that slavery is still occurring.

The only way to fight this is to raise awareness around the world and hopefully attract the attention of other governments and nations to make a change and somehow abolish slavery for good. It is also imperative to mention that this isn't modern slavery, this is traditional slavery from which many people have suffered.

There are certain things that should remain in the past and slavery is definitely one of them.

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