Mauritania is one of the last countries in the world where people are still born into hereditary slavery, which means they are literally owned by other people, and forced to work for masters their entire lives. People in slavery come from the Haratine ethnic group, historically enslaved by White Moors. They can be bought and sold, or given as gifts, and face a lifetime of exploitation and abuse. Rape of female slaves is common and their children also become slaves. They are Muslims, and many believe that it is Allah’s wish for them to be enslaved because they are told that their paradise is bound to their Master. In reality, Islam dictates that a Muslim cannot enslave a fellow Muslim. Since 2007 slavery has been criminalised in Mauritania but the law is not enforced and the government is reluctant to acknowledge the existence of the problem. With support from Anti-Slavery International, Fatimata’s master was convicted for slavery in a landmark case in May 2016.
I was the property of four masters from the same family. They shared me, so each one had a period of the year where I was at his service.
I herded their goats from a very young age. But I was never allowed to milk the goats to feed myself or my children. I was only ever allowed to eat the leftovers from the masters’ meals, which I cooked. Sometimes my masters would see me getting ready to eat and they would suddenly confiscate my food. So sometimes my children and I would go for several days without eating.
I never received any money or anything else for the work I did. When I went out with the animals for long periods, my children would remain with the larger family of masters. My 10-year old son became the slave of one of the masters, and was under his control all the time. This meant I never knew that my boy was eating enough, or if he was eating at all.
Now I can hope for a better future. I want to do training that will enable me to set up a profitable business to support my family. All I want is to live a dignified life, and be able to feed and educate my children.
Narrative as told to Anti-Slavery International