A landmark victory against slavery

There are more slaves on the planet today than at any time in human history. But a landmark case in West Africa this week should give thousands of them a rare dose of hope. A court in Niger found the country’s government guilty of failing to protect the rights of Hadijatou Mani, a 24-year-old woman ...

591831_081028_niger5.jpg
591831_081028_niger5.jpg

There are more slaves on the planet today than at any time in human history. But a landmark case in West Africa this week should give thousands of them a rare dose of hope. A court in Niger found the country's government guilty of failing to protect the rights of Hadijatou Mani, a 24-year-old woman sold into slavery at the age of 12.

Mani says she was sold as a young girl to a man for $500 and forced into domestic and agricultural work for a decade. Her master raped her repeatedly, and she bore him three children. She was freed in 2005 and, with the help of Anti-Slavery International, brought the case against the government for failing to protect her. In the judge's decision, he ordered the government to pay Mani about $20,000.

Niger officially abolished slavery in 1960, but the practice persists throughout the country, with an estimated 43,000 people enslaved. There are believed to be tens of thousands more in bondage across West Africa. Niger's government repeatedly contends that it does all it can to eradicate the practice, but this is the first time a court has held it responsible for looking the other way. There's little chance of thousands more slaves being so lucky as to be freed and rewarded, but if this compels the government to enact (or enforce) more stringent laws, all the better.

There are more slaves on the planet today than at any time in human history. But a landmark case in West Africa this week should give thousands of them a rare dose of hope. A court in Niger found the country’s government guilty of failing to protect the rights of Hadijatou Mani, a 24-year-old woman sold into slavery at the age of 12.

Mani says she was sold as a young girl to a man for $500 and forced into domestic and agricultural work for a decade. Her master raped her repeatedly, and she bore him three children. She was freed in 2005 and, with the help of Anti-Slavery International, brought the case against the government for failing to protect her. In the judge’s decision, he ordered the government to pay Mani about $20,000.

Niger officially abolished slavery in 1960, but the practice persists throughout the country, with an estimated 43,000 people enslaved. There are believed to be tens of thousands more in bondage across West Africa. Niger’s government repeatedly contends that it does all it can to eradicate the practice, but this is the first time a court has held it responsible for looking the other way. There’s little chance of thousands more slaves being so lucky as to be freed and rewarded, but if this compels the government to enact (or enforce) more stringent laws, all the better.

Photo: Boureima HAMA/AFP/Getty Images

Carolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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