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Descent based slavery

Descent-based slavery describes a situation where people are born into a 'slave class', caste or a group viewed as being in slavery by other members of their society.  If one’s mother is in slavery, one is born into slavery.

People born into slavery face a lifetime of exploitation. They are forced to work without pay for their so-called ‘masters’ throughout their lives, primarily in herding cattle, working on farmland or as domestic servants.

They are treated as property by their ‘masters’. They can be inherited, sold or given away as gifts or wedding presents. Any children born are automatically considered property of the ‘masters’ and can be taken away from their mother at an early age.

They often suffer from degrading treatment, are excluded from education and politics, and are not allowed to own land or inherit property. Often they can’t even choose who they want to marry, and are certainly unable to marry outside of their caste.

Girls are typically sexually abused by men in the household and may be forced to marry at a young age. Many young girls and women are sold into sexual and domestic slavery as the unofficial wives to wealthy men known as ‘wahaya’.

Those who escape slavery also face ongoing discrimination because they are part of the ‘slave’ caste and therefore have few opportunities for employment away from their ‘master’.

Even though slavery is prohibited by international law, descent-based slavery can be so culturally ingrained in a society that challenging its existence is very difficult.

Descent-based slavery exists in countries that have strict hierarchical social structures. People in slavery and their descendants are at the very bottom of the caste system and suffer discrimination because of their place on the social ladder.

Today this type of slavery persists in West African countries including Niger, Mauritania and Mali.

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Hadijatou Mani,  former WahayaHadijatou Mani, former 'Wayaha' that succesfully challenged Niger for failing to protect her from slavery.
Read her story

Wahaya womenTabass was sold three times to three different masters over 12 years, the first time when she was just seven years old.
Read her story

Descent based slaveryMoulkheir grew up in slavery, just like her mother, and her children shared the same fate.
Read her story