2022 U.S. State Department
Human Rights Report
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including criminal blasphemy laws; serious government corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence including rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation/cutting, sexual exploitation and abuse, and other forms of such violence; trafficking in persons, including continued existence of slavery and slavery-related practices.
Findings on Slavery:
Slavery and slavery-like practices, which typically flowed from ancestral master-slave relationships and involved both adults and children, continued. Although reliable data on the total number of slaves did not exist, the Global Slavery Index estimated in 2018 that hereditary slavery and slavery-like conditions affected a small but not insignificant portion of the rural and urban population. Enslaved persons suffered from traditional chattel slavery, including forced labor and sex trafficking. Human rights groups reported that masters coerced persons in slavery and slavery-like relationships to deny to human rights activists that such exploitative relationships existed.
Former victims of slavery and their descendants remained in a dependent status vis-a-vis their former slave masters due to a variety of factors, including obstacles faced in obtaining identification documents and civil registration for persons born out of wedlock, cultural traditions, a lack of marketable skills, poverty, and persistent drought. Some former victims of slavery and descendants were forced to revert to a de facto slave status by working for their former masters in exchange for some combination of lodging, food, and medical care. Some former victims of slavery reportedly continued to work for their former masters or others under exploitative conditions to retain access to land that they traditionally farmed. Although the law provides for distribution of land to the landless, including to former victims of slavery, authorities rarely enforced the law.
Former victims of slavery in subservient circumstances were also vulnerable to mistreatment. Women with children faced particular difficulties. Because they were particularly vulnerable, lacked the resources to live independently from their former masters, and had children who frequently lacked birth certificates or other documentation required for school attendance and basic services, they could be compelled to remain in a condition of servitude, performing domestic duties, tending fields, or herding animals without remuneration.
Some former victims of slavery were coerced into continuing to work for their former masters, who relied on adherence to religious teachings and a fear of divine punishment to keep these individuals enslaved. Former victims of slavery were often subjected to social discrimination and limited to performing low-skilled, manual labor.
Slavery, including forced labor and de facto slavery, were more prevalent in rural areas where educational levels were generally low or a barter economy still prevailed, and prevalent to a lesser degree in urban centers, including Nouakchott. The practices commonly occurred where there was a need for workers to herd livestock, tend fields, and do other manual or household labor, and in urban centers where young children, often girls, were retained as unpaid domestic servants.