Mauritania is a source and destination country for women, men, and children subjected to 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. Although reliable data on the total number of slaves do not exist, local and international experts agree that slavery continues to affect a significant portion of the country’s 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. Separately, 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 Pulaar community were most vulnerable to forced begging. Children who lacked birth certificates were generally not permitted to enroll in school and were therefore at increased vulnerability 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. 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 and North African 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 took steps to raise public awareness about the dangers of human trafficking in Mauritania, including through conducting five televised panel discussions on slavery. However, the government failed to hold traffickers criminally accountable, and law enforcement and judicial personnel intervened on behalf of alleged offenders to thwart the progress of criminal prosecutions. The National Agency to Fight against the Vestiges of Slavery, Integration, and Fight against Poverty (known as Tadamoun), which became operational during the year, did not submit any criminal complaints on behalf of victims. 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; take steps to hold government officials accountable for trafficking-related complicity, including efforts to interfere with criminal investigations; train law enforcement personnel, with an increased focus on measures to identify and refer trafficking victims among vulnerable populations to protective services and institute policies to standardize these procedures; provide support for, and access to, legal assistance for adult and child trafficking victims, including through directly submitting criminal claims on victims’ behalf through Tadamoun; consider amending Law 2007-048, which outlaws slavery, to allow civil society organizations to file complaints on behalf of slaves; provide 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 and implement a plan to provide economic resources—through monetary or property allotment—to empower members of traditional slave castes to live independently, and ensure these resources reach the targeted communities; and continue and increase efforts to raise public awareness about trafficking, including traditional servitude.
The government made negligible anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. 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; a 2013 law against slavery and torture broadens the 2007 law’s 10-year statute of limitations. The 2007 law defines slavery and prescribes a sufficiently stringent penalty of five to 10 years’ imprisonment for violations. Its effectiveness remains impaired by its requirement that slaves file a legal complaint before prosecution can be pursued, as well as by its barring of 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. Although the national agency known as Tadamoun has been granted the authority to submit complaints on behalf of victims, it did not do so during the year.
The government investigated three slavery cases identified by an NGO, but failed to pursue any prosecutions or obtain any convictions for trafficking crimes. An NGO reported that in October 2013, local court officials interfered to block further legal proceedings by brokering an out-of-court settlement in exchange for the withdrawal of all charges. Two slavery cases ongoing at the close of the previous reporting period were dismissed without further proceedings despite efforts from the National Commission for Human Rights, an ombudsman organization composed of both government and civil society representatives, to advocate for the prosecution of these cases using the 2007 anti-slavery law, and there were no cases prosecuted under the 2003 anti-trafficking law. The government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of government officials for complicity in trafficking or trafficking-related offenses. Civil society representatives criticized law enforcement and judicial officials for a failure to appropriately investigate and prosecute slavery cases brought to their attention, and for intervening to suppress further action against the alleged perpetrators in the three new cases investigated during the reporting period.
The Government of Mauritania demonstrated limited 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 four Public Centers for the Protection and Social Integration of Children and in November 2013, opened a fifth center in Rosso; 289 children in need received services from the centers, but it is unknown how many of these children may have been victims of trafficking. These facilities provided only short-term protections and generally returned children to their families or the imams who facilitated their exploitation. NGOs continued to provide the majority of protection services to trafficking victims, without financial or in-kind support from the government. One NGO identified and cared for 649 girls rescued from conditions of domestic servitude.
Lack of available long-term rehabilitative care in Mauritania made many victims vulnerable to re-trafficking. The absence of measures 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 2013, 9,800 undocumented migrants were detained and deported without screening. 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. Victims may have been inappropriately questioned with the suspected traffickers; the government did not allocate funding to train law enforcement or social service personnel on proper procedures for victim identification, referral, or care. Mauritania does not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution.
The Government of Mauritania sustained modest efforts to prevent human trafficking. Continuing a positive trend from recent years, government officials participated in public events with prominent members of Mauritania’s civil society community involved in combating trafficking. It also conducted five televised panel discussions focusing on slavery between government officials and civil society leaders. NGOs reported referring more than 5,500 cases of child labor to the police; none resulted in any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for forced child labor. The newly appointed director general of Tadamoun conducted a public awareness tour, reaching nine of Mauritania’s 14 provinces, to raise awareness about the new agency and its mandate. The government continued to fund an economic empowerment project, the Program to Eradicate the Effects of Slavery, but it is unknown how many members of traditional slave castes benefited from this program, as the government did not have a mechanism to monitor the program’s impact on targeted communities. 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.