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descent based slavery in mali

Population: 15.8 million
Capital: Bamako
Major languages: French, Bambara 
Major religions: Islam, indigenous beliefs
Average income: US $600
Life expectancy: 51 years (men), 53 years (women)

Slavery was formally abolished in the 1960s after Mali gained independence from France. However, descent based slavery still exists in the northern regions of the country. People descended from slaves remain as ‘property’ of their ‘masters’, either living with them and serving them directly or living separately but remaining under their control.

Others descended from slaves live freely and no longer have links with their traditional masters, but they typically face discrimination because of their ‘slave’ status. There is very little political will to address descent-based slavery and its existence is often denied by the government altogether.

What we are doing in Mali:

Anti-Slavery International works with local groups Temedt and GARI to support people of slave descent and lobby the government for stronger measures against slavery.

Together we have:
  • Supported people who are the victims of slavery leave their masters
  • Provided legal assistance to victims of slavery who want to take their cases before the courts.
  • Provided training to magistrates and other judicial officials in dealing with slavery cases.
  • Conducted research on slavery in Mali.
  • Formed groups for women of slave descent and provided vocational training as well as low interest, small business loans.
  • Drafted a law specifically criminalizing slavery and lobbied the government to pass the law.
The changing political and security situation in Mali continues to be problematic for our partners of the ground.

Personal story: Iddar

Iddar’s grandmother was bought as a slave, so Iddar was inherited by his master. He was never paid and beaten regularly by the family.

“The work is very hard. I had to do everything in my master’s house. I looked after the large flock of sheep alone, collected the water and did all the heavy domestic work. I worked day and night and I never received any money.

Slavery by inheritance means my children are also slaves. My son Ahmed was barely three years old when a niece of the master got married. They took Ahmed away from me to work in her service. They thought he could do little jobs like make the fires. They like to enslave the children early so that they grow up understanding their place.

Ahmed belonged to the family so there was nothing I could do. I was so sad. I spent 50 days pleading with them to give me my son back, but they refused. I was so shocked; I worried so much I could not sleep.”

Iddar managed to escape in 2008 with Ahmed and his wife. He met our partners Temedt and GARI who have proved support to Iddar and his family. 
  • The family have been provided with a cart and two donkeys and 15 goats and provided micro-credit loans with the result that the children now go to school. 
  • Assistance in getting Iddar has a national identity card which is crucial to finding work but difficult for someone with slave status.
  • A lawyer is pursuing a case against his former master before the courts and managed to make sure the master had to appeared in court – this is significant as masters usually see themselves as above the law, although the political crisis has suspended this for now.
Iddar feels he has claimed his freedom – he said even if he were to die tomorrow, he would be happy as his children have their dignity. 

Descent based slavery

People can inherit their slavery status from their parents
©Pete Pattisson /