MAURITANIA (Tier 3)
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. Boys from Mali and Senegal are trafficked to Mauritania for forced begging by religious teachers. Senegalese and Malian girls are trafficked to Mauritania for domestic servitude and forced prostitution. Ghanaian and Nigerian women and girls may be trafficked to Mauritania for sexual exploitation. Reports indicate that while some slaves are forced by their masters to remain in conditions of servitude, others stay with their masters because they lack land and other means to live freely.
The Government of Mauritania does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government did not show evidence of overall progress in prosecuting and punishing trafficking offenders, protecting trafficking victims, and preventing new incidents of trafficking. Progress that the previous government demonstrated in 2007 through enactment of strengthened anti-slavery legislation and deepened political will to eliminate slavery and trafficking has stalled.
Recommendations for Mauritania: Improve on the current void of anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts by investigating and prosecuting slavery and other trafficking offenses, and convicting and punishing trafficking offenders; consider measures to allow NGOs to file complaints on behalf of slaves; provide slaves with land and other resources to live freely; increase assistance to child trafficking victims; end the practice of penalizing children trafficked in prostitution by placing them in prison and train authorities to identify trafficking victims among children detained for criminal conduct and illegal migrants; and increase efforts to educate the public about slavery and trafficking.
The Government of Mauritania decreased its law enforcement efforts to address human trafficking, including traditional slavery practices. Mauritanian law prohibits all forms of trafficking through its 2003 Law Against Trafficking in Persons, which prescribes penalties of from five to 10 years’ imprisonment that are sufficiently stringent and exceed those prescribed for rape. Slavery is prohibited by Law number 2007-048, which was enacted in September 2007. This law defines slavery and prescribes an adequate penalty of from five to 10 years’ imprisonment. It supplements a 1981 anti-slavery ordinance that failed to prescribe penalties or define slavery and it repeals a provision in the ordinance compensating slave owners for the liberation of their slaves. The law’s effectiveness, however, is hampered by its requirement that slaves file a legal complaint before a prosecution may be pursued. The law also bars NGOs from filing complaints on behalf of slaves. Because many slaves are illiterate, they are often unable to complete the paperwork to file a legal complaint. Although the government in 2007 pledged $7.5 million to combat slavery, a portion of which was allocated to enforcing the new anti-slavery law, the government failed to enforce this law. The government reported no arrests or prosecutions of slave holders or trafficking offenders during the year. Although there were cases of slaves breaking free of masters, no legal action was taken against the masters.
The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) reportedly issued a directive for the enforcement of the new anti-slavery law. The ministry also reported to have sent delegations to all regions of the country to educate local authorities about the law. Local NGOs, however, were unaware of these initiatives. Labor inspectors lack the basic resources, such as transport and office equipment, needed to investigate forced labor cases. In May 2008, the MOJ collaborated with UNICEF to host a child trafficking seminar for judges and law enforcement officials.
The Government of Mauritania demonstrated weak efforts to protect victims of human trafficking, including slavery. Although the government promised in 2007 to allocate funds in the 2008 budget to provide former slaves with land and other resources for their reintegration, this commitment was not fulfilled; no government programs assisted former slaves during the year. The government closed six centers that it jointly funded with a donor in Nouakchott to provide care to indigent children, many of whom were talibe.
The government did not encourage victims to assist in trafficking investigations or prosecutions. Mauritania does not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they face hardship or retribution. Victims are inappropriately incarcerated or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. The government continued to place children in jail for stealing or engaging in commercial sexual activity, despite the fact that many of them are likely trafficking victims who have been forced into these activities. The government does not follow procedures to identify trafficking victims among illegal immigrants detained in a center in Nouadhibou, where conditions are extremely harsh.
The Government of Mauritania made inadequate efforts to raise awareness of trafficking during the last year. In November 2008, the Ministry of Labor collaborated with the ILO to organize a National Forum on Fundamental Labor Principles and Rights. The government has not taken steps to reduce the demand for forced and child labor, including trafficking and slavery, or demand for commercial sex acts.