Niger begins enforcement of ban on slavery
Saturday March 5, 2005
Around 7,000 people living as slaves in Niger will be told today that they are free for the first time in their lives, as the government begins to enforce a law banning the practice of slavery.
The government is expected to hold a ceremony in the western Niger town of Tillaberi, on the edge of the Sahara, to explain the law to people who have spent their whole lives as the property of their masters.
The chief of the In Ates region will free all slaves in the area under his control, where entrenched slavery means 95 % of the population are owned and controlled by the other 5%.
The announcement marks the first major push by the government to publicise an anti-slavery law passed in May 2004. At least 43,000 people live as part of an established slave class in across Niger, according to a study carried out in 2003 by Niger anti-slavery organisation Timidria in collaboration with Anti-Slavery International.
Slaves in Niger are generally born into an established slave class that works without pay for masters who control every aspect of their lives. Babies are taken from their mothers to prevent bonds being formed in families, and sexual assault and rape are widespread. Slaves are given as gifts or inherited among the slave-owning class.
Those held in bondage have little access to radio and are largely illiterate, so few realise that the law says they can leave their masters if they wish. For many, a lack of economic prospects may mean life does not change very much even once they have been officially freed.
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