Saidou, a survivor of descent-based slavery, who now owns her own business
Image credit: Daouda Correra.

Thousands of people across West Africa are still born into slavery – in a practice known as descent-based slavery. Leaving their master is difficult, sometimes impossible, and that is only one step to freedom. With our partners across Mali, Mauritania and Niger, we work in local communities to facilitate individuals leaving slavery and empower them once they have – with education, incoming generating activities and registering as a citizen.

Saidou lived in rural Mauritania and was enslaved from birth. As a young child, Saidou would get up early in the morning, fetch water, prepare the couscous, wash the dishes, and take care of the livestock. She lived with her masters and was always the first up and the last one to go to bed.

As a young adult and mother of one, she fell ill to the point where she couldn’t stand. Her masters simply didn’t care and wouldn’t do anything to help her. She managed to crawl up to the road and found a car to take her 60km to a nearby city.

Mauritania woman formerly in slavery

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Upon making it to the city she stayed with her mother and her mother’s masters. Her mother berated her, sharing a commonly used expression “his/her paradise is under the feet of his master. If a slave runs away, s/he loses his place in paradise”. However, Saidou categorically refused to go back to her masters and her life in slavery.

Thankfully, Saidou was introduced to the members of SOS Esclaves, our partners in Mauritania, and decided to stay with them in freedom. SOS Esclaves

Saidou with two of her children
Credit: Daouda Correra. Saidou and two of her adult children.

rented a house for her and paid for her medical treatment. She stayed in the house and over time, gradually integrated into society.

Saidou received financial help from SOS-Esclaves and six years ago set up a small business selling vegetables and couscous which supports her family of six children. She receives regular visits from the women mentors who give her advice on how to better integrate into society – skills and advice that are vital for finding freedom.

One woman bravely leaving her masters has broken the cycle of slavery for her family; her son and his first child are living in freedom in a nearby city. And all of her children are in education. Our partners SOS Esclaves’ vital work means that once an individual finds freedom, they are supported to live a fruitful and happy life free from exploitation.

Please note that all of our “Stories of Freedom” have been shared with Anti-Slavery International only, and may not be copied or reproduced without permission.