Mauritania: Complex Problem of Slavery

Erin Pettigrew discusses the complex problem of slavery in Mauritania: “I’ve been working in Mauritania on and off for the past eight years and this issue of ‘slavery’ is still one I am struggling to fully understand. I certainly cringe every time I see a young black child working in someone’s home, whether they be Black or Arab, in Mauritania and these relationships of work and pay are rarely clear to me.”

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  • Slavery still exists in several countries, including Mauritania (I have published evidence of the latter just last week: but is often presented to us under modern names like “human trafficking” or “child labor”. It is also important to remember that there are several different types of slavery, for example debt bondage.

    Slavery often goes hand in hand with racist practices but is not exclusively a race issue.
    It is possible to seek justification for certain forms of slavery by referring to scripture but it is not a religious issue per se.

    Slavery is most definitely an issue rooted in custom and practice and reinforced by inequality, poverty and lack of education, and should be treated with sensitivity for the victims, not sensationalized in the media or used for political interest.

    As I mention in my post about the CNN special report here: it would be appropriate for countries like the US, EU member states, Arab and African neighbors, the World Bank, IMF and other international bodies to stop funding and supporting the Mauritanian government unless and until they resolve issues such as the continuing practice of slavery in a meaningful way, for example with social welfare and rehabilitation programs. Simply saying it is outlawed does not work. Proof of this is evidenced by the fact that Mauritania has outlawed slavery several times. Criminalising slavery does not work unless there is an independent judiciary with clear guidelines on how to apply the law. In addition, the practice of detaining, torturing and jailing anti-slavery activists – which has also happened in recent months – must cease.

    However, since a legitimate form of government is an essential base from which to build the necessary changes, it is far more pressing at this moment that Mauritania return to a democratically elected form of government at the earliest opportunity. The October 2011 elections were indefinitely postponed and the only elected official in the entire administration is president Aziz. Everyone else is occupying their senatorial or parliamentary seat under false pretext and without a valid legal mandate, and with Aziz’ blessing. Details of this issue here:

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