Nouakchott, 12 Jumadil Awwal 1434/23 March 2013 (MINA) – Mauritania announced Friday (22/3) it will launch its first agency charged explicitly with helping former slaves, with campaigners arguing the trade is still alive and well in the west African state, Modern Ghana reported monitored by Mi’raj News Agency (MINA).

The organisation’s mission will be to “eradicate the legacy of slavery” by helping the poor and marginalised through better access to housing and employment, a government statement said.

While various social security programmes have helped victims of slavery in the past, the beneficiaries were never recognised as such, with schemes officially targeting other disadvantaged groups.

The term “legacy of slavery” allows the government to avoid explicitly recognising that the phenomenon — on which there are no official statistics — still exists in Mauritania.

Forced labour is a particularly sensitive issue in the Mauritania, where anti-slavery charities are very active, especially SOS Slaves and the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Struggle against Slavery, which support victims in court.

Mauritania was the last country in the world to abolish slavery, in 1981, and since 2007, those convicted of the practice have been liable to 10 years in prison.

Two slave owners were recently jailed in the capital Nouakchott and many other cases of alleged slavery are waiting to go to court, with the suspects often accused by NGOs of “collusion with slave owners”. (T/P09/P03)

Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)

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