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Stories of Descent Based Slavery


©Michael Hylton

I grew up working as a slave for a family. My mother worked for them before me and my children also worked for the family once they were old enough. It was hard work and we had to go out and look after the goats in the day and then come back and do all the housework in the evening. I didn’t always get enough to eat and was hit and beaten regularly. Two of my daughters are the children of the master’s eldest son. He said he would behead me if I ever told anyone that he was the father. 

When I had my fourth child, a baby girl, the family wouldn’t let me take her out to the fields with me. They said I couldn’t look after my baby and look after the goats as well. I came home one day and found that the baby had been left out in the sun all day. She had died and her body was being eaten by ants. I had to bury her myself, with my hands; it felt like I was burying an animal instead of my child.

One day someone from SOS-Esclaves, Anti-Slavery's partner in Mauritania, learned that I was a slave for the family and told the police. Someone warned the master that the police would come round, so I was sent to another home. I stayed with this new family for a while and they refused to let me go. The father decided that he would marry my eldest daughter even though she was very young.

He took my daughter, and told me never to come back. I went and found my older brother and told him what had happened and he contacted SOS-Escalves. My daughter managed to escape with the help of the people from SOS while the father was away.

With the help of SOS-Esclaves, I am now pressing charges against him.


©Michael Hylton

Choueida mint Mbowrik, a mother of eight children, lived in slavery until 2012 in northern Mauritania. Her brother Maatalla, who left his masters in 2004, fought for years for a military escort to assist him in looking for Choueida and her children, which they finally did in 2012. She now lives n Nouatkchott with an assistance from Anti-Slavery project partners SOS-Esclaves.

"I grew up in Zouerate, right up in the desert, with my nine brothers and sisters and our mother. We worked for our mother’s master. From the earliest age, we used to look after the young animals. We’d also go out collecting firewood and fetching water. I always knew we were different from the master’s children, in every way. They were never hit or beaten. They learned the Qur’an and went to school. As slaves, there was no question of us going!

"I slept out with the animals under a little cover, not even a tent. Later, there were some men who asked to marry me, but the masters never allowed it. I would have liked to get married. And when I started having children they separated them from me too. They worked from the youngest age. We never had happy times or restful times. Life was all about work.

"These days, my life is very different. Now I am free and independent.

"I am a mother to 10 children, so I am mostly at home with them. I have been earning a little money by looking after the house next door. I take my children to Koranic school. I have a little table where I sometimes sell things.

"The neighbours know where we come from. They’re not always nice. But I’m proud to be free. When I saw my brother had come to find me, I was so happy, it was like a state of ecstasy! When someone says, ‘Hey, you were a slave!”, I say “So were you!”

"My greatest wish is just to be like everyone else. I would like a constructed house, and formal papers. If I had papers I could walk around town freely – any authorities could ask for my papers, and I could show them. If I had papers, I could also get a job. I would like to open a small shop. My children could go to formal school.

"Sometimes I think about my former life, when I’m lying in bed, before I go to sleep. I think about the things they made me do and what they did to me. I will never forget it."

Hadijatou's story

Hadijatou successfully won a case against the state of Niger which failed to protect her from slavery.

Hadijatou, 24, was born into an established slave class and like all slaves in Niger.

Like her mother, she was inherited, sold and made to work without pay. Her 'master' also used her as a sexual slave.

With the assistance of Anti-Slavery International, and our partners, Hadijatou brought a case against Niger's domestic legal system and state authorities, which had at times been complicit in her master's attempts to deny her freedom.

Niger was found to be responsible for failing to protect her from slavery. The judgement was delivered in Niamey, the capital of Niger by the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The Court, which has authority across most of West Africa, found Niger in breach of its own laws and international obligations in protecting its citizens from slavery. The Court has made clear that Niger is obliged to take positive measures to protect its citizens from slavery. Ms Mani is to be compensated 10 million CFA, the equivalent of £12,300/$19,000 in damages.

The Court in its judgement stated that: "There is no doubt that Hadijatou Mani was held in slavery for almost 9 years in violation of the legal prohibition on this practice."

Hadijatou Mani, said: "I am very thankful for this decision. It was very difficult to challenge my former master and to speak out when people see you as nothing more than a slave. But I knew that this was the only way to protect my child from suffering the same fate as myself. Nobody deserves to be enslaved. We are all equal and deserve to be treated the same. I hope that everybody in slavery today can find their freedom. No woman should suffer the way I did."

"With the compensation I will be able to build a house, raise animals and farm land to support my family. I will also be able to send my children to school so they can have the education I was never allowed as a slave."


Tabass Aborak's story

Tabass was sold three times to three 
different masters over 12 years

Tabass was sold three times to three different masters over 12 years, the first time when she was just seven years old. One of the masters she belonged to had seven other wahaya, four of them having children by the master.

Tabass and the others did all the domestic work and cooking for the master and his legitimate wives. Their master would often refer loudly to the fact he had bought Tabass to remind her of her slave status. When the family travelled to visit relatives, Tabass had to prepare the horses and follow behind the family on foot, carrying the children on her back over long distances.

“We had to carry out orders from the master and his wives. Night and day were just the same; each moment that passes brought more work. Only speed and skill in carrying out orders allowed us to avoid the master’s punishments, especially if he was angry at us because of the tales his legitimate wives had been telling him. When this happened we’d be called ‘chegiya’, which means ‘bastard’, or ‘bouzoua’ - ‘useless slave.’”


Talak Azgar's story

Talek Zagar, former Wahaya, Niger

Talak inherited her slave status from her parents who were captured in a raid by Tuaregs against their village. She was 10 years old when she was sold to a slave master.

“I grew up in my master’s compound, so I was under his control. I was never allowed to go out and play with the children from the village, and I never had the time anyway. My work load was more than I could manage on my own and the physical and psychological abuse was constant.”

She was responsible for all the domestic work, getting water from the well, gathering firewood, washing up, washing clothes, cleaning, caring for the children and looking after the animals. She received very little food and spent most of her days starving.  Her master would regularly beat and rape her and she still bears the scars from this.

“He showed me no mercy. He considered me to have no soul. He would force me to have sex with him quickly and secretly, without any warning.”

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

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

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