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2013 (Narrative date)

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.

I'm Youma and I have always lived with Rahma mint Legreyve; she is my foster sister. I work for her and her family, her children and her husband, Mokhtar Ould Hmeimed. I was in school for two days and I left; Rahma’s children go to school and Rahma is a teacher. Concerning the Koran, I learned one sura, the Fatiha and the other suras and I intended to learn more. 

I do not think I am a minor; I am small but very old and I work on a contract with Rahma, a contract she made for me. In times past, she told me that a man named Biram imprisons minors among people working without a contract. She took me to an office with one of my brothers, her brother and her husband and they produced a paper on which they affixed my finger and my brother’s and assured me that with this paper, Biram can no longer imprison me or interfere with my relationship with them. They assured me also that in light of this paper, my mother would earn at end of each month, an amount of UM 10000 (ten thousand UM: 25 Euros), so I'm happy to help my mother with this amount that my boss will give her for each month.

As told to the Initiative for the Resurgence of Abolitionism