By: Courtney Kidd, LMSW SJS staff writer
In Mauritania, 10-20% of the country’s population is enslaved. This western African country was the last in the world to criminalize slavery in 1981, but has only prosecuted one case successfully. Although illegal, slavery continues to flourish while the government facilitates the continuation. A local organization, SOS Slaves, was started by a former slave owner and former slave in the hopes of freeing those within the bonds. They are faced with a daunting task. Government officials will exile or imprison anyone even found speaking of slavery and due to the long history of slavery, most slaves do not wish to be set free, they do not understand what freedom is.
In a bone-chilling story about Moulkheir, an escaped slave who was beaten and raped throughout her life and lost her daughter to murder by her former slave owner, safety is not guaranteed. It wasn’t until Moulkheir was “gifted” to another owner, and her daughter was also abused that she was finally convinced to leave. It wasn’t just Moulkheir taking the risks though, the journalists had to enter the country on false pretenses, claiming to study locust patterns in the area. They were constantly followed by government officials to ensure that slavery was not a topic discussed. Most officials stated that “the phenomenon of slavery no longer exists.”
The United Nations have provided a number of intervention alternatives to the country, none of which have been adopted. For more about Moulkheir’s story, or the conception of SOS Slaves, read the full article here:
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Slavery is still a very real problem, one that exists in our own country to this day. Slaves still come and go out of our country, working generally in prostitution rackets or other “adult entertainment” industries. If we don’t take a stand about it here, how do we expect other countries to do the same?
Thank you for bringing up this topic Courtney. I do not think many here in the western world knew that the ‘old’ style of slavery still existed, although a different form of slavery exists in many other countries where women and girls are sold or traded into prostiution; think Thailand, Cambodia, many countries in the African region, various countries wihin the former USSR, the middle east where in many countries women are considered a man’s property and have no rights.
Western values are not universal. Conundrum — is it cultural imperialism to impose our valies on others, even if the values of others consist of hurting people that are female or of different ethnicity? There was a time when impose Western values was considered a virtue– is that still true?