African Children’s Rights Committee holds Mauritania Accountable for Child Slavery
Minority Rights Group International and SOS-Esclaves on behalf of Said Ould Salem and Yarg Ould Salem v. The Government of the Republic of Mauritania, Decision No: 003/2017
Said Ould Salem and his younger brother, Yarg Ould Salem, were born to a Haratine mother, part of Mauritania’s former slave class. While slavery is now outlawed in Mauritania, the practice remains widespread. From birth onwards, both brothers became slaves to the El Hassine family. The two children worked seven days a week without rest, including on Fridays. They regularly faced corporal punishment and were only referred to as ‘slaves.’ Neither brother attended school or was taught the Quran. The brothers escaped in 2011.
Minority Group International and SOS-Esclaves brought this case on behalf of Said and Yarg before the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Committee) on 15 December 2015. The petitioners alleged that the Republic of Mauritania was in violation of articles 1 (Obligation of State Parties), 3 (Non-discrimination), 4 (Best Interests of the Child), 5 (Survival and Development), 11 (Education), 12 (Leisure, Recreation and Cultural Activities), 15 (Child Labor), 16 (Protection Against Child Abuse and Torture), 21 (Protection Against Harmful Social and Cultural Practices), and 29 (Prevention of Sale, Trafficking and Abduction of Children) of the African Charter on the
Rights and Welfare of the Child (Charter)). The Committee considered this case admissible due to undue delay in the criminal process and a lack of effective and sufficient remedies, among other factors.
The Committee delivered its decision on 15 December 2017. It found that although Mauritania has legislation criminalizing slavery, the state has not implemented the legislation across all its entities, and the legislation itself does not provide adequate protection against slavery in practice. The Committee ruled in near complete agreement with the complainants, finding that Mauritania violated its obligations under articles 1, 3, 4, 5, 11, 12, 15, 16, and 21.
It is noteworthy that the Committee emphasized the interrelatedness and interdependence of all rights (civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural).
The Committee issued several recommendations, calling on the Republic of Mauritania to, among other measures,
- properly prosecute and sentence all members of the El Hassine family;
- ensure that the brothers and other victims of slavery are given adequate remedies in the form of necessary identification documents, enrollment in public schools, psychological support, and compensation; and
- ensure that all state bodies, civil society, and other stakeholders collaborate to confront slavery or slavery-like practices as a matter of priority.
This landmark decision has the potential to bring positive change for Said and Yarg as well as thousands of other child victims of slavery in Mauritania.
The Committee’s ruling is particularly important because it emphasizes that states are not merely responsible for providing formal legal protection, in addition, states must ensure effective implementation of laws that safeguard human rights.
The Committee’s decision illustrates issues of multiple or intersectional discrimination. Although the subject of intersectionality is not addressed expressly in the decision, the ruling brings to light how discrimination is experienced more severely or in a unique way due to overlapping factors, including poverty, age and ethnicity (the boys belonged to the Haratine ethnic group, who have historically been victims of slavery in Mauritania). This case, especially given the structural remedies it provides, represents a critical step forward towards eradicating the pervasive practice of child slavery in Mauritania, and one hopes, across jurisdictions.
For their contributions, special thanks to ESCR-Net members: Dullah Omar Institute, Minority Rights Group International and Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE) at Northeastern University.
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