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Street Children

Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery

Poverty drives the unsuspecting poor into the hands of traffickers

Published reports & articles from 2000 to 2025                     

Islamic Republic of Mauritania

Half the population still depends on agriculture and livestock for a livelihood, even though many of the nomads and subsistence farmers were forced into the cities by recurrent droughts in the 1970s and 1980s. Mauritania has extensive deposits of iron ore, which account for nearly 40% of total exports. The nation's coastal waters are among the richest fishing areas in the world, but overexploitation by foreigners threatens this key source of revenue. The country's first deepwater port opened near Nouakchott in 1986.

The Government continues to emphasize reduction of poverty, improvement of health and education, and privatization of the economy.  [The World Factbook, U.S.C.I.A. 2009]

Description: Description: Mauritania

Mauritania is a source and destination country for children trafficked for forced labor and sexual exploitation. Slavery-related practices, rooted in ancestral master-slave relationships, continue to exist in isolated parts of the country. Mauritanian boys called talibe are trafficked within the country by religious teachers for forced begging. Children are also trafficked by street gangs within the country that force them to steal, beg, and sell drugs. Girls are trafficked internally for domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. Mauritanian children may also be trafficked for forced agricultural and construction labor, herding, and for forced labor in the fishing industry within the country. - U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June, 2009   Check out a later country report here and possibly a full TIP Report here



CAUTION:  The following links have been culled from the web to illuminate the situation in Mauritania.  Some of these links may lead to websites that present allegations that are unsubstantiated or even false.  No attempt has been made to verify their authenticity or to validate their content.



If you are looking for material to use in a term-paper, you are advised to scan the postings on this page and others to see which aspects of Human Trafficking are of particular interest to you.  Would you like to write about Forced-Labor?  Debt Bondage? Prostitution? Forced Begging? Child Soldiers? Sale of Organs? etc.  On the other hand, you might choose to include precursors of trafficking such as poverty and hunger. There is a lot to the subject of Trafficking.  Scan other countries as well.  Draw comparisons between activity in adjacent countries and/or regions.  Meanwhile, check out some of the Term-Paper resources that are available on-line.


Check out some of the Resources for Teachers attached to this website.


The unspeakable truth about slavery in Mauritania

The Guardian, 8 June 2018

[accessed 18 February 2019]

For all the government’s denials, slavery persists in Mauritania. In a rare insight into the lives of the tens of thousands of people affected, photojournalist Seif Kousmate spent a month photographing and interviewing current and former slaves. While there, he was arrested and imprisoned by police, who confiscated his memory cards, phone and laptop.

In 1981, Mauritania made slavery illegal, the last country in the world to do so. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of people – mostly from the minority Haratine or Afro-Mauritanian groups – still live as bonded labourers, domestic servants or child brides. Local rights groups estimate that up to 20% of the population is enslaved, with one in two Haratines forced to work on farms or in homes with no possibility of freedom, education or pay.”


*** ARCHIVES ***

Slavery: Mauritania's best kept secret

Pascale Harter, BBC News, Nouakchott, 13 December 2004

[accessed 17 April 2012]

In answer to the Mauritanian government's assertion that slavery no longer exists in Mauritania, Mohamed recites the names of the family members he left behind in slavery. "If I tell you their names, can you count them?" he asked shyly. There are eight members of his immediate family still living as slaves, and Mohamed tells me there are many more in Mauritania. It is difficult to know how many though. International human rights organisations such as Amnesty International are prevented from entering the country to conduct research. "Not only has the government denied the existence of slavery and failed to respond to cases brought to its attention," says Amnesty, "it has hampered the activities of organisations which are working on the issue, including refusal to grant such organisations official recognition."

Boubakar Messaoud and other members of SOS Slaves have been imprisoned and harassed by the authorities for their anti-slavery campaign. It seems the government has little interest in really wiping out slavery. Meanwhile, slavery remains Mauritania's best kept open secret.

2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Mauritania

U.S. Dept of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 30 March 2021

[accessed 16 June 2021]


Slavery and slavery-like practices, which typically flowed from ancestral master-slave relationships and involved both adults and children, continued. Although reliable data on the total number of slaves does not exist, local and international experts agreed hereditary slavery and slavery-like conditions affected a substantial portion of the population in both rural and urban settings. Enslaved persons suffered from traditional chattel slavery, including forced labor and forced sexual exploitation. Human rights groups reported that masters coerced persons in slavery and slavery-like relationships to deny to human rights activists that such exploitative relationships existed.

Slavery, including forced labor and de facto slavery, were more prevalent in areas where educational levels were generally low or a barter economy still prevailed, and prevalent to a lesser degree in urban centers, including Nouakchott. The practices commonly occurred where there was a need for workers to herd livestock, tend fields, and do other manual or household labor. Nevertheless, such practices also occurred in urban centers where young children, often girls, were retained as unpaid domestic servants (see section 7.c.).


Child labor in the informal sector was common and a significant problem, particularly in poorer urban areas. Several reports suggested girls as young as age seven, mainly from remote regions, were forced to work as unpaid domestic servants in wealthy urban homes. Young children in the countryside were commonly engaged in cattle and goat herding, cultivation of subsistence crops, fishing, and other agricultural labor in support of their families. Young children in urban areas often drove donkey carts, delivered water and building materials, and were very active in garbage collection. Street gang leaders occasionally forced children to steal, beg, and sell drugs. In keeping with longstanding tradition, many children also served apprenticeships in small-scale industries, such as metalworking, carpentry, vehicle repair, masonry, and the informal sector.

Freedom House Country Report

2020 Edition

[accessed 8 July 2020]


Despite amendments to the antislavery law passed in 2015 meant to address the problem more robustly, slavery and slavery-like practices continued in 2019, with many former slaves still reliant on their former owners due to racial discrimination, poverty, and other socioeconomic factors. The government cracks down on NGOs that push for greater enforcement of the law and rarely prosecutes perpetrators, but at the same time has shown an increased commitment to enforcing laws against slavery. In March 2018, a court handed down 10- and 20-year prison sentences to three people for practicing slavery.

2017 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, US Dept of Labor, 2018

[accessed 19 April 2019]

[accessed 3 May 2020]

Note:: Also check out this country’s report in the more recent edition DOL Worst Forms of Child Labor

[page 666]

Children in Mauritania, especially from the Haratine ethnic minority, continue to be exploited as slaves and endure slave-like practices, particularly in rural and remote areas of the country. Some children are born into slavery, while others born free but remain in a dependent status and are forced to work with their parents for their former masters in exchange for food, money, and lodging. (9; 18; 22; 23; 18; 20; 5; 2; 8) Child slaves herd animals, such as cattle and goats; perform domestic labor; and are often sexually exploited. (14; 15; 2; 5; 24)

In Mauritania, it is a traditional practice to send children to Koranic teachers to receive an education. However, some Koranic teachers (marabouts) force their students (talibés) to beg on the streets for long hours and to surrender the money they have earned. (7; 8; 9; 17; 2).

Anti-Slavery Efforts In Mauritania

The Borgen Project

[accessed 1 January 2021]

THE SITUATION -- Since outlawing slavery in 1981, Mauritanian officials have publicly denied any presence of the practice in their borders. In spite of these claims, data that independent observers collected shows that slavery is still prevalent: the Global Slavery Index (G.S.I.) estimates that 90,000 Mauritanians live in modern slavery, a figure likely lower than reality because the government obstructs all efforts to study the practice.

Mauritania ranks sixth on the G.S.I’s Prevalence Index, behind North Korea, Eritrea, Burundi, the Central African Republic and Afghanistan. Other estimates, from local sources, claim that as much as 20% of the population lives in slavery.

Because the Mauritanian government has categorically denied the existence of slavery, efforts to measure or sanction the practice have made slow progress. Major sites like the Washington Post claim that there are no reliable statistics on how many people are enslaved due to government obstruction and cultural norms that make measurement difficult. In fact, Mauritania’s census does not count enslaved people. Slavery did not receive criminalization until 2015, and Mauritanian courts have largely neglected to prosecute individuals accused of enslavement.

The African nation living under the shadow of slavery

Joe Wallen, The Telegraph, 14 October 2018

[accessed 15 October 2018]

Like most other Mauritanian slaves, Habi would tend to her master’s livestock or work in the household, fetching water and preparing food.   She says she was regularly raped by the head of her household after he threatened her with a knife and later on became pregnant by his son following another rape.   None of us ever went to school,” she said in an interview with the Telegraph, “none of us had identity or civil papers.   “I received no support, no one could help me. I was totally at the mercy of my masters.”

It is rare for slave owners - who include government officials and even judges - to free a slave and slaves are reportedly traded between families like livestock.   They are put to work either in their master’s home, carrying out mundane tasks such as cooking and cleaning, or sent out to the scrub and desert to herd animals such as goats or camels in arid, remote areas of the country for months on end.

Saudi Religious Leader Calls for Slavery's Legalization

Daniel Pipes, November 7, 2003

[accessed 20 February 2011]

Five hundred years ago, Jews, Christians and Muslims agreed that owning slaves was acceptable but paying interest on money was not. After bitter, protracted debates, Jews and Christians changed their minds. Today, no Jewish or Christian body endorses slavery or has religious qualms about paying reasonable interest.

Muslims, in contrast, still think the old way. Slavery still exists in a host of majority-Muslim countries (especially Sudan and Mauritania, also Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) and it is a taboo subject.

The challenge ahead is clear: Muslims must emulate their fellow monotheists by modernizing their religion with regard to slavery, interest and much else. No more fighting jihad to impose Muslim rule. No more endorsement of suicide terrorism. No more second-class citizenship for non-Muslims.

Mauritania activists jailed as police quash resurgent anti-slavery protests

Monica Mark, West Africa correspondent, The Guardian, 17 January 2015

[accessed 22 January 2015]

Police used teargas to disperse protesters, after three anti-slavery activists – including a presidential runner-up – were jailed amid a resurgent anti-slavery movement in the nation with the world’s highest rate of the practice.

Anti-slavery activists have stepped up campaigning recently in Mauritania, which in 1981 became the world’s last country to officially abolish slavery. But the practice has continued to flourish in remote desert outposts. Figures are notoriously difficult to confirm. The Walk Free Foundation said recently that up to 151,000 people in the country are thought to be slaves. Activists suggest the number could be five times higher. But there has been only one successful conviction since slavery was criminalised in 2007.

Worthing care home couple's trial for human trafficking

Worthing Herald, May 21, 2009

[accessed 20 February 2011]

[accessed 3 May 2020]

David Scutt, prosecuting, said the couple were part of an international trafficking network which lured poor Mauritian workers to the country with the promise of wages four times what they could earn at home.

CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW - He said a recruitment agency on Mauritius provided cover letters allowing the workers to enter the country as visitors – but, on arrival, they were put to work on 13-hour shifts caring for elderly people suffering from dementia, and paid £450 a month – the sum they had been told would be their weekly wage.

Mauritanian rights groups protest suspected case of human trafficking

Angola Press, Nouakchott, October 9, 2007

At one time this article had been archived and may possibly still be accessible [here]

[accessed 8 September 2011]

Mauritanian human rights groups Sunday embarked on a protest against a suspected case of human trafficking in the country, involving an 18-year-old boy believed to have been sold by his boss as a `camel shepherd`

The NGOs are certain that Mahmoud was "sold to work as a camel shepherd" in western Sahara or even in the Arab Gulf countries.

Though human trafficking is banned in Mauritania, there have been recurring cases of children sold out as camel shepherds in the Arab Gulf countries.

Mauritanian Journalist Arrested

...Or Does It Explode?, March 15, 2005

[accessed 20 February 2011]

A journalist in Mauritania has been arrested after interviewing a woman allegedly being kept as a slave, a media rights group says.  Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Muhammad al-Amin walad Mahmudi, a freelance journalist, was arrested on Sunday. "The violation of the right to information once again shows the repressive will of the Mauritanian authorities, who, embarrassed by a message, send in the police to punish the messenger."

Hushed-up slavery persists in Mauritania

Amadou Ndyaye and Sinikka Tarvainen, Nouakchott, March 5 2004 -- South African Press Association SAPA & Deutsche Presse-Agentur (German Press Agency) DPA

[accessed 20 February 2011]

The Sahara desert country officially abolished slavery in 1960 and again in 1980, but it is nevertheless known as one of the world's few remaining regions where people keep slaves.  Observers say the subject is hushed up. Anti-slavery activists have been handed prison sentences after speaking to western media.

Malawi African Association and Others v. Mauritania

African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, Algiers, 11 May 2000

[accessed 20 February 2011]

26. Communication 54/91 alleges that there are over 100,000 Black slaves serving in Beidane houses. And that though 300,000 had bought their freedom, they remain second-class citizens. Besides, Blacks do not have the right to speak their own languages. According to communication 98/93, a quarter of the population (500,000 out of 2,000,000 inhabitants in the country) are either slaves or Haratines (freed slaves). The freed slaves maintain many traditional and social links with their former masters, which constitutes a more subtle form of exploitation.

As Many As 27 Million Worldwide Forced into Slavery

Feminist Majority Foundation, May 31, 2002

[accessed 20 February 2011]

the report showed the trafficking of boys between to the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf States, continued slavery in Brazil, and inaction to free slaves in Mauritania.

Slavery Lives on in Mauritania

National Public Radio NPR, Aug. 28, 2001

[accessed 20 February 2011]

The government of Mauritania abolished slavery more than 20 years ago. But despite the government's persistent denials, the practice continues in one form or another.

Slavery in the northwest African country is more of a private tradition than an public institution. The government isn't directly involved, and it even refuses to publicly admit that slavery exists in Mauritania. Individuals and families have been practicing slavery for centuries. Some slaves are treated well by their masters, others are abused. "There are different levels to it,"

In Opposition to Eligibility of Mauritania for Trade Benefits

Alice Bullard, Ph.D. & Jason M. Waite, Esq., The Human Rights Initiative, August 15, 2000

At one time this article had been archived and may possibly still be accessible [here]

[accessed 8 September 2011]

II. MAURITANIA IS INELIGIBLE AS A BENEFICIARY AGOA COUNTRY BECAUSE IT HAS FAILED TO EFFECTIVELY ABOLISH SLAVERY - In Mauritania slavery was officially outlawed in 1980. However, as many as 100,000 blacks remain the property of Arab Berbers, and individuals speaking out against slavery are persecuted by the government … We have attached original affidavits of individuals testifying to the present existence of slavery in Mauritania and the failure of the government to enforce anti-slavery prohibitions. We have also attached reliable first hand reports of the existence of slavery and the denial of basic human rights that AGOA requires eligible countries to respect.

Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 12 October 2001

[accessed 20 February 2011]

[49] The Committee is concerned about the high number of children engaged in labor, in particular children working in agriculture, in the informal sector and in the street, including the talibés who are exploited by their teachers. While recognizing the efforts undertaken by the State party to stop cases of trafficking of children towards Arab countries, it remains concerned that girls involved in domestic service are often not paid or underpaid and that involuntary servitude is reported to exist in some isolated areas.


Human Rights Reports » 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

U.S. Dept of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March 8, 2006

[accessed 10 February 2020]

TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS – The country was a source and destination for men, women, and children trafficked for the purpose of forced labor. Multiple NGO reports suggested that forced labor took several forms. Slavery-related practices, and possibly slavery itself, persisted in isolated areas of the country where a barter economy still prevailed. Several reports suggested that young girls from remote regions, and possibly from western Mali, worked as unpaid housemaids in some wealthy urban homes. An unknown number of young boys (talibes), nearly all from Pulaar tribes, begged in the streets as part of a "work-study" arrangement with some "marabouts," or religious teachers, for receiving religious instruction. There were unconfirmed reports that a small number of marabouts forced their Talibes to beg for over 12 hours a day and provided them with insufficient food and shelter.

SECTION 6 WORKER RIGHTS – [c] The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, but the law only applies to relations between employers and workers; there were credible reports such practices occurred. Slavery is illegal although there were still areas where the attitude of master and slave prevailed and slavery was practiced.

Citizens continued to suffer from the country's heritage of slavery. Slavery has been officially abolished. The practice of chattel slavery was once a tradition. Numerous reports suggested that some members of the long-dominant White Moor community continued to expect or desire the servitude of Black Moors. The nature of these reports also suggested that such attitudes impeded the goal of eliminating all remnants of slavery and related practices, a goal to which the former and transitional governments and major opposition parties were committed. Slavery-related practices, and reports of slavery, persisted most strongly in those remote regions of the east and southeast where a barter economy existed, where education levels were generally low, and where a greater need existed for manual labor in work such as herding livestock and tending fields.

The Department of Labor’s 2004 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

U.S. Dept of Labor Bureau of International Labor Affairs, 2005

[accessed 20 February 2011]

Note:: Also check out this country’s report in the more recent edition DOL Worst Forms of Child Labor

CHILD LABOR LAWS AND ENFORCEMENT - The 2004 Labor Code sets the minimum age for employment at 14 years, and defines what the government considers to be worst forms of child labor.  The Labor Law also prohibits forced and compulsory labor and sets 18 years as the minimum age for work requiring excessive force, or that could harm the health, safety, or morals of children.  The Criminal Code establishes strict penalties for engaging in prostitution or procuring prostitutes, ranging from fines to imprisonment for 2 to 5 years for cases involving minors.  The Law Against Human Trafficking expands the scope of trafficking for cases involving children.

CURRENT GOVERNMENT POLICIES AND PROGRAMS TO ELIMINATE THE WORST FORMS OF CHILD LABOR - The Government of Mauritania held public awareness campaigns on radio, television and newspaper to publicize provisions in the new Labor Code and Law Against Human Trafficking.

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