Sunday, January 09, 2011

Slavery and Wage Slavery

In August 2007 Mauritania’s National Assembly unanimously adopted a law criminalizing slavery (including debt bondage and forced marriage). The law says slaveholders could be given 10-year prison sentences and fines ranging from US$2,000 to $4,000. Anyone facilitating slavery can be imprisoned for two years. The law also provides for financial compensation to former victims. Nearly a fifth of Mauritania’s 3.1 million people were slaves as of 2009. No one has been prosecuted for keeping slaves. Authorities generally classify such cases simply as disputes between an employer and his or her employees. The deputy head of SOS Esclaves in Mauritania, Mohamed Ould Khalifa explained “The authorities themselves keep slaves,”

“My masters told me: ‘The slave depends on his owner and in order to go to paradise he must obey his owner. Otherwise he will go to hell’,” said Rabah who, with the help of the Mauritanian anti-slavery group Initiative pour la résurgence du mouvement abolitioniste, was liberated. “I knew no one but my masters. I belonged to them and that seemed normal to me. When I was young my owners beat me; when I got older they threatened to take me to the police if I disobeyed them.”

Many say the question of land is at the heart of Mauritania’s slavery problem. “The cultivatable lands are monopolised by the former masters. And yet it’s us who farm them,” said Yeslim Ould Warmit, a Haratine farmer in the village of Leuceïba. “Indeed for them: slaves we were born, slaves we will always be,” added Abdallahi Ould Mohamed Salem, another freed sleeve. “That will not change as long as the local administration backs the former masters.”
“This land question is crucial,” said Mamadou Sarr, executive secretary of the forum of national human rights’ organisations in Mauritania. “Because today, no one is playing the game. Not the mayors, not the prefects, not even the governors. They still obey the big landowners.”

Banning slavery have failed to improve living conditions for victims of slavery.

“I was born into a family of slaves in 1959. I was sold to a tribe in northern Mauritania where I worked as a full-time slave. I was the first one to wake up and the last to sleep. My main daily work was to look after my masters’ cattle." Mbareck Ould Mahmoude told IRIN "My masters told me that I was free in 1979. They starting paying me US$19 monthly and $11 each to my mother and sisters to work as domestic workers. My mother and sisters are still working now for the same people as during the times of open slavery. They are now paid $27 a month, but that is not enough to live on. Now, people do not call me a slave anymore because of the law. But in reality, I am still a slave and I will stay one as long as I am poor and uneducated like the rest of my family. I feel that I am not a normal human being. I have no voice, no importance in my community and this is likely to last unless I get better pay and basic education. New slavery is worse than that of the old days. Today, you get a negligible amount for heavy work. You have to support yourself and your family unlike the old days of slavery, when you were called a slave but at least your food and housing were paid for by your masters.”

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