Obtaining the unpaid services of a child

Jakub Sobik reports at Anti-Slavery:

We have just received news of a verdict in one of our slavery cases in Mauritania – a 10-year-old boy called Issa who we’d been supporting through our UN-funded project.

The Criminal Court reclassified the slavery charge as ‘obtaining the unpaid services of a child’ which carries much smaller sentences. Slavery crimes are meant to carry sentences of 5-10 years in prison.

So the slave-owner was given a 3-month sentence, which he already served through the time he’d been in detention, and was consequently released.

Neither the child, the lawyer nor the guardian of the child [was] even informed that the ruling was due to take place so they weren’t present in court.

As our Mauritanian partners SOS Esclaves noted, “justice has again been manipulated to disguise slavery crimes, and the courts ultimately continue to protect slave-owners and deny the legitimate rights of the victims.”

This is all very typical and I should be used to it by now but it still never fails to amaze me how outrageously unfair the treatment of people in slavery get compared to the perpetrators. Just to be clear, we are talking about people who literally own other people from the moment they are born and have complete control over their lives, confining them to lifetimes of misery, exploitation and abuse.

This all stands in stark contrast to the rhetoric of ‘prioritising an end to slavery’ that the Mauritanian government keeps spinning in international circles, and unfortunately to some extent it succeeds.

They have more than thirty cases in the works right now, he says, and none of them is making any progress.


  1. says

    The Wikipedia has a map of the prevalence of slavery around the world. The one country in black is Mauritania. India and Pakistan are no surprise, either.

    I remember reading somewhere that Muslim men cannot be kept as slaves under most schools of Sharia: if a man says the Shahadah and converts, he is no longer a slave (technically, at least.) Historically, that was why conquered peoples were enslaved, to give them a Hobson’s choice of being a non-Muslim slave or a Muslim serf. Women, however, do not have that out because under Islam, woman = slave anyway.

  2. Freodin says

    Is there even a difference between “obtaining the unpaid services of a child” and slavery?

    Oh, sorry, legalese… I forgot.

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