Mauritania is a source, transit, and destination country for women, men, and children subjected to conditions of forced labor and sex trafficking. Adults and children from traditional slave castes in the Black Moor and Afro-Mauritanian communities are subjected to slavery-related practices rooted in ancestral master-slave relationships. Reliable data on the total number of slaves does not exist, but according to the estimate of a respected Mauritanian NGO, slavery may affect up to 20 percent of the population in both rural and urban settings. Held for generations by slave-holding families, persons subjected to slavery are forced to work without pay as cattle herders and domestic servants. Some boys from within Mauritania and other West African countries who study at Koranic schools—referred to as talibes—are subsequently subjected to forced begging by corrupt imams. Talibe victims live in harsh conditions and do not attend school; many are forced to beg for food and to earn a daily financial quota to pay the imam. Boys from low-income families in the Puular community were most vulnerable to forced begging. Children who lacked birth certificates were generally not permitted to enroll in school, and were therefore vulnerable to trafficking. Mauritanian girls, as well as girls from Mali, Senegal, The Gambia, and other West African countries, are forced into domestic servitude in Mauritania. Authorities in Guinea reported identifying a Mauritanian child trafficking victim during the year. Mauritanian women and girls are forced into prostitution in the country or transported to countries in the Middle East for the same purpose; some entered into forced marriages, facilitated by brokers and travel agencies in Mauritania, and were subsequently exploited as sex slaves overseas. Men from Middle Eastern countries use legally contracted “temporary marriages” as a means to sexually exploit young girls and women in Mauritania.
The Government of Mauritania does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government—which in previous years assumed a public posture that denied the continued existence of slavery in Mauritania—took steps to raise public awareness about the dangers of human trafficking in Mauritania, including slavery. This welcome, positive tone by political leaders was not, however, matched by corresponding efforts to punish trafficking offenders or increase protections for victims. Although the government and NGOs identified nearly 2,000 suspected trafficking victims, the government did not initiate any prosecutions for trafficking crimes. The government did not provide adequate protective services to victims or ensure their referral to service providers to receive care, and it failed to establish procedures for the proactive identification of victims among persons arrested for prostitution and individuals detained and deported for immigration violations.
Recommendations for Mauritania: Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses—addressing all types of trafficking of adults and children—and to convict and punish offenders using the 2003 Law Against Trafficking in Persons and the 2007 Anti-Slavery Law; ensure that efforts to hold parents criminally liable for their involvement in sending their children away from home are accompanied by efforts to prosecute and convict the traffickers who force children into servitude; train law enforcement personnel, with an increased focus on measures to identify and refer to protective services trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as women in prostitution and those in traditional slavery, and institute policies to standardize these procedures; consider amending Law 2007-048, which outlaws slavery, to allow civil society organizations to file complaints on behalf of slaves; provide support for, and access to, legal assistance for adult and child trafficking victims; continue and increase funding to civil society organizations which provide direct services to victims, including former slaves; increase efforts to coordinate with NGOs to arrange protective services for trafficking victims; with input from civil society representatives, develop a plan to provide economic resources—through monetary or property allotment—to empower members of traditional slave castes to live independently; and increase efforts to raise public awareness about trafficking, including traditional servitude.
After the previous year’s unprecedented progress in prosecuting and convicting trafficking offenders, the Government of Mauritania did not convict any traffickers. All forms of trafficking, except hereditary slavery, are prohibited by the 2003 Law Against Trafficking in Persons, which prescribes penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment for violations. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and exceed those prescribed for rape. Slavery, including hereditary slavery, is prohibited by Law 2007-048, which was enacted in September 2007. The law defines slavery and prescribes a sufficiently stringent penalty of five to 10 years’ imprisonment for violations. The law’s effectiveness remains impaired by its requirement that slaves affirmatively file a legal complaint before prosecution can be pursued, as well as by barring NGOs from filing complaints on behalf of slaves, many of whom are illiterate and unable to complete the paperwork involved in filing a legal complaint. The government provided no support for programs to assist victims in filing complaints of slavery. In January 2013, parliament approved a draft law against slavery and torture; this law broadens the 2007 law’s 10-year statute of limitations. The government investigated two slavery cases brought to its attention by an NGO in January 2013. In one case, authorities arrested and subsequently released a woman suspected of enslaving a 10-year-old boy in Guerrou; authorities report this investigation remains ongoing, but claim it is a case of child labor that does not amount to slavery. In a second case, police arrested a woman in Nouakchott alleged to be enslaving a mentally handicapped child and her mother. After being held for seven days, she was granted provisional release. The case is reportedly ongoing, and a future trial date is expected. The National Commission for Human Rights, an ombudsman organization composed of both government and civil society representatives, is reportedly advocating for the prosecution of both cases using the 2007 anti-slavery law. In partnership with the UN, more than 500 law enforcement and judicial officials participated in training on the implementation of the anti-slavery statute. The government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of government officials for complicity in trafficking or trafficking-related offenses, although civil society representatives argue that the judiciary’s failure to pay due attention to slavery cases brought to its attention amounts to tacit complicity.
The Government of Mauritania demonstrated modest efforts to protect victims of human trafficking, including those exploited in traditional slavery. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Childhood, and the Family (MASEF) continued to operate three National Centers for the Protection and Social Integration of Children and, in November 2012, opened a fourth center in Nouadhibou. Ninety children in need, an unknown number of whom may have been trafficking victims, received services from the centers. These facilities, however, provided only short-term protections and generally returned children to their families or the imams who facilitated their exploitation. The 10-year-old victim identified by an NGO in Guerrou was returned to his mother, and the mentally handicapped child identified in Nouakchott was referred by authorities to an NGO where she remained at the close of the reporting period. The whereabouts of her mother, also identified as an alleged victim, are unknown. During the reporting period, NGOs provided the majority of protection services to trafficking victims, generally without financial support from the government. One NGO identified and cared for 1,864 children rescued from conditions of exploitative domestic work. Lack of available long term rehabilitative care in Mauritania made many victims vulnerable to re-trafficking. In a positive development, the government’s Program to Eradicate the Effects of Slavery for the first time provided funding, in the equivalent of $15,000, to an NGO for the provision of direct support to five former slaves. The absence of measures in place to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations may have led to victims being punished for acts committed as a result of being trafficked. For example, in 2012, more than 7,500 undocumented migrants were detained and deported without screening, and women suspected of prostitution, some of whom may have been trafficking victims, were often jailed. The government did not encourage victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking cases, and no victims filed civil suits against trafficking offenders. In instances where victims were asked to provide information to authorities, they may have been inappropriately questioned together with the suspected traffickers. The government does not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution.
The Government of Mauritania continued modest efforts to raise awareness of trafficking during the year. Government officials increasingly appeared in public together with prominent members of Mauritania’s civil society community involved in combating trafficking. In September 2012, the government televised a panel discussion, focusing on slavery, between the government’s Acting Commissioner for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action, and Civil Society and civil society leaders. During the year, state media outlets also covered other events with anti-slavery messages. The government took steps to ensure its officials did not publicly condone slavery. When an imam who served as senior advisor to the Minister of Islamic Affairs argued on a radio program that slavery was legal under certain interpretations of Islamic law, he was immediately relieved from his duties; the government subsequently issued a statement that government officials must not advocate breaking Mauritanian laws.
The government did not report efforts to enforce a labor statute, adopted during the previous year, which strengthened regulation of the employment of domestic workers in private households. The TTTE (Traite, Traffic, et Travail des Enfants) continued to function as the government’s multi-stakeholder body addressing child trafficking; this group met five times during the year, though its primary activities were related to child labor and not specific to trafficking. In March 2013, the government announced the creation of the National Agency to Fight against the Vestiges of Slavery, Integration, and Fight against Poverty, though this agency did not become operational during the reporting year. The government contributed resources to a forthcoming UN-backed study on child trafficking and the worst forms of child labor in Mauritania. Government support to the estimated 1,200 street children in Nouakchott, who are vulnerable to trafficking, was limited, though MASEF monitored approximately 900 of them through its youth integration centers. The government continued the process of establishing the identity of local populations through its registration drive, which issued biometric identity documents, decreasing the vulnerability to trafficking of those it registered. The government made no effort to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts.