Mauritania: Where escaping slavery can be a crime
October 20th, 2014
04:34 PM ET

Mauritania: Where escaping slavery can be a crime

By John D. Sutter

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.

So perhaps this latest news should come as no surprise.

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.

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