Mauritania was the world’s last country to ban slavery only in 1981, and today it tops the Global Slavery Index with the highest prevalence of slavery. But while Mauritania still has difficulty coming to terms with traditional slavery, contemporary forms of slavery such as human trafficking are also on the rise.
ITUC affiliated trade unions in Mauritania are receiving complaints of trafficked women workers who have returned from Saudi Arabia on a daily basis. All of them report how they were promised decent wages and jobs in Saudi Arabia as nurses and teachers, only to find themselves employed as domestic workers, working for a few dollars a day.
Many have their passports confiscated, and cannot leave the house without permission from the employer. Some have suffered sexual harassment, and report being beaten and locked in a room without food or water. Others were threatened with rape for complaining about working conditions. When they asked to return home to Mauritania, their employers refused.
The families have asked assistance from the Mauritanian Foreign Ministry to no avail. Mauritanian trade unions and the family members have demonstrated in front of the Saudi Embassy in Nouakchott, but their voices were ignored.
The workers in this case are clearly victims of trafficking for forced labour. Despite cries for help, the Mauritanian government is turning a blind eye.
Unless the migrant labour programme is revised to install safeguards against forced labour in the management system, more abuses will follow.
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