Slavery is dying a slow death in many parts of the world and children are often the ones who suffer most from its persistence. This week a west African court has found the government of Niger guilty of failing to protect a 12-year-old who was sold into slavery in a decision that may offer hope to thousands of others who are enslaved in the region.
Hadijatou Mani, who is now 24, was sold against her mother’s wishes in 1996 and was regularly sexually abused and beaten for a decade. In Niger slave status is passed down through generations, and Mani’s mother was also a slave. Mani became the “property” of a man in his 60s who had seven other slaves and she bore three of his children.
Niger, which, along with Mali, Mauritania and Sudan, has been under international pressure to put a stop to the customary practice, criminalized slavery in 2003 and two years later Mani was given a “liberation certificate”. But her freedom was short-lived. When she tried to marry a man of her own choosing, her former owner claimed they were legally married. A local court found in her favour but the decision was reversed on appeal and Mani was arrested, charged with bigamy and jailed for two months.
With the help of a British group, Anti-Slavery International, she pursued her case through the justice arm of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas). Despite the ban on slavery, Niger’s courts have been reluctant to find in favour of victims in recent years. However, the government says it accepts the Ecowas court’s verdict, which includes an order to pay Mani the equivalent of US$20,000. Mani is happy and says, “I feel that I am a human being like everyone else.” ~ The Guardian (UK), Oct 28