Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime.
That’s the apparent reality in Mauritania, the country with the world’s highest incidence of modern slavery. Located in West Africa, on the edge of the Sahara Desert, an estimated 4% to 20% of people there remain enslaved. It was the last country in the world to abolish the practice — in 1981. And it only criminalized owning humans in 2007.
But this latest news still surprised me.
Mbeirika Mint M’bareck, a 15-year-old girl, was rescued from slavery only to be subsequently charged with having sex outside of marriage, according to a letter activists drafted on her behalf. (It is unclear who fathered the child). That crime is potentially punishable by death by stoning, according to an expert I spoke with. The activists planned to send the letter to the country’s ministry of justice on Monday.
“We are shocked and appalled that the prosecuting authorities would bring the charge of (adultery), as this young girl is evidently the victim of the heinous crime of slavery as well as statutory rape,” according to the letter, which the activists provided.
The 15-year-old ex-slave was “heavily pregnant” during a court hearing, which apparently led to the charge of sex outside of marriage. Her alleged captor, meanwhile, was charged simply with “exploitation of a minor (without financial compensation),” as opposed to the charge of slavery, which carries a longer prison term.