The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

A Step in the Right Direction for Niger’s Slavery Laws (or Lack Thereof)

Posted by Sara Lewis on October 29, 2008

The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States has charged the state of Niger the equivalent of AU$30,600 for neglecting to protect a woman sold into slavery at 12 years old. Adidjatou Mani Koraou, now 24, was sold for 330 euros (AU$673) and forced into domestic, agricultural and sexual labour without pay for the following ten years. The Age reported:

Adidjatou “served her master and his family for 10 years. She was never paid for her work and lived in a state of complete submission to her master, being subjected to regular beatings and sexual violence.

Her circumstances fall squarely within the longstanding internationally accepted definition of slavery,” [NGO Anti-Slavery International] said in a statement released ahead of the hearing.

The hearing and the conviction that followed mark an important moment for slavery in West Africa, this being the first time that the ECOWAS regional court has been asked to rule on a case of slavery.The result carries weighty implications for other West African states, and will hopefully be regarded as a benchmark case to be mimicked and built on hereafter.

Ms. Koraou said of the ordeal in comments published by Anti-Slavery International:

It was very difficult to challenge my former master and to speak out when people see you as nothing more than a slave. But I knew that this was the only way to protect my child from suffering the same fate as myself. Nobody deserves to be enslaved. We are all equal and deserve to be treated the same… no woman should suffer the way I did.

What’s important to remember here is that slavery is not limited to those at the extreme end of the spectrum. Slavery today occurs in an alarming range of ways and affects an even more alarming amount of women (and men) all over the world. Anti-Slavery International defines a slave as anyone who is forced to work, owned or controlled by an employer and dehumanised or ‘bought’ in any way. Examples include (but of course are not limited to) bonded labour, early forced marriage, forced labour, slavery by descent, trafficking and child labour. See this section of Anti-Slavery International’s website for the full picture.

[And while you’re there, send the automated e-mail – or adapt it into your own words – urging the President of the Phillippines to enact the Batas Kasambahay Domestic Workers Bill, which aims to pull Filipino domestic workers out of the private sphere and into the public legal system where their working conditions can be regulated and improved.]


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