MAURITANIA (Tier 2 Watch List)

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 are subjected to slavery-related practices rooted in ancestral master-slave relationships. Reliable data on the total number of slaves do 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 religious teachers known as marabouts. Mauritanian girls as well as girls from Mali, Senegal, The Gambia, and other West African countries are forced into domestic servitude. Mauritanian women and girls are forced into prostitution in the country or transported to countries in the Middle East for the same purpose. 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, but it is making efforts to do so. The government acknowledges that some forms of trafficking are a problem in the country and, during the year, its multi-stakeholder body met seven times to coordinate government and NGO activities related to child trafficking, child smuggling, and child labor. For the first time in its history, in November 2011, the government successfully prosecuted and punished a slave-master under its 2007 anti-slavery law. In partnership with local NGOs, the government rescued four child trafficking victims during the year. In early 2011, the parliament approved a constitutional provision criminalizing slavery and all forms of exploitation, equating them to crimes against humanity. In August, the government also enacted a new statute to strengthen the labor code governing the employment of domestic workers in private households. Despite these efforts, investigations and prosecutions remained minimal and protective services for victims were inadequate.

Recommendations for Mauritania: Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, addressing all types of trafficking of adults as well as 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 to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as women in prostitution and those in traditional slavery, and refer them to protective services; 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; 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 – financial or property – to empower members of traditional slave castes to live independently; ensure that the Program to Eradicate the Effects of Slavery functions and provides financial compensation to previous slaves; and increase efforts to raise public awareness about trafficking, including traditional servitude.


The Government of Mauritania increased its 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. 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 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 slaves are illiterate and unable to complete the paperwork involved in filing a criminal or civil complaint. The government provided no support for programs to assist victims in filing complaints on slavery. In April 2011, the government prosecuted two alleged slave-masters for enslaving a child. Although the court acquitted the defendants, the case set a precedent, as it was the first time the 2007 anti-slavery law was specifically invoked. In November 2011, the government successfully prosecuted six individuals for enslaving two children and convicted a slave-master, his siblings, and the mother of enslaved 11- and 14-year-old boys for slavery offenses under the 2007 anti-slavery law. The slave-master received a sentence of two years' imprisonment, while his four siblings and the children's mother were given two two-year suspended sentences and fines ranging from the equivalent of $1,724 to $345, respectively, for their complicity. The judge ordered the slave-master to pay the victims the equivalent of $3,725. In partnership with UNICEF, 213 law enforcement officials and NGOs participated in training that covered anti-trafficking. As a result of complaints filed by NGOs and parents, trafficking victims who had suffered violence and physical abuse were referred to the Special Police Brigade for Minors. NGOs reported that few of these cases resulted in prosecutions. Victims and their employers generally resolved grievances via informal agreements out of court. The government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of government officials for complicity in trafficking, although civil society representatives argue that judicial failure to pay due attention to slavery cases brought to their attention amounts to tacit complicity.


The Government of Mauritania demonstrated modest efforts to protect victims of human trafficking, including those exploited in traditional slavery. NGOs reported that the government removed four children from slavery in 2011 as well as 1,678 child domestic workers and childcare providers – some of whom may have been victims of trafficking – from exploitative households. Six former slave children were returned to their families and 182 of the 1,678 rescued child domestic workers were enrolled in school or training centers, with the remainder returned to their families. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Childhood, and the Family continued to operate two National Centers for the Protection and Social Integration of Children and, in September 2011, opened a third center in a major town in the interior. However, NGOs note that these centers are not fully functional due to insufficient funding, and it is not clear how many of the children they assisted were trafficking victims. During the reporting period, NGOs provided the majority of protection services to trafficking victims. The government continued to take no steps to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations. Illegal migrants were detained and placed in the Migrant Detention Center at Nouadhibou pending their expulsion from the country, and women suspected of prostitution were often jailed. The government also did not encourage victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking cases, and no victims filed civil suits against trafficking offenders.


The Government of Mauritania made limited efforts to raise awareness of trafficking during the year. In January 2012, the Commissariat for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action, and Relations with Civil Society, a government agency responsible for coordinating Mauritania's international commitments with its domestic human rights policy, held a two-day workshop in cooperation with the UN to create a road map for Mauritania's anti-trafficking efforts. The government broadcast a televised debate on slavery in April 2011 with representatives from local NGOs, government officials, and the country's human rights ombudsman. In August 2011, Mauritania adopted a new labor statute to update and strengthen regulation of the employment of domestic workers by private households, including replacing provisions governing the treatment of household employees and reinforcing their rights vis-a-vis employers for proper treatment, pay, and work conditions. The TTTE (Traite, Traffic, et Travail des Enfants), the government's multi-stakeholder body addressing trafficking in persons, organized a workshop in January 2012 to present a draft law to representative government agencies on the worst forms of child labor and strengthening child protection. Through its child protection centers, the government provided care to children vulnerable to forced labor and helped reintegrate approximately 2,000 children back into public school. The government's the equivalent of $3.4 million Program to Eradicate the Effects of Slavery (PESE) did not function during the reporting period after the former human rights commissioner was arrested in 2010 and the commissariat's financial director and the PESE coordinator were arrested on corruption charges in May 2011. The government made no effort to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts.


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