26 October 2008

Hadijatou Mani

According to today’s Observer a panel of West African judges will decide whether Niger's government has failed to protect decide whether Niger's government has failed to protect Hadijatou Mani and tens of thousands like her who have been enslaved, despite the practice being outlawed five years ago. Her case is being heard by the justice arm of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).

Ms Mani was sold into slavery at the age of 12 and repeatedly raped by her master. Her appalling story is familiar in a country where the ownership of slaves, many from a hereditary slave caste, has been commonplace, particularly in remote rural areas. Beatings were frequent and she and other slaves were forced to work unpaid and gruelling hours for Naroua and his four legitimate wives. When she tried to escape, she was punished.

In 2005, two years after Niger enacted a law forbidding slavery, she was presented with a 'liberation certificate'. This proved to be worthless, as she was immediately forced into a 'wahiya marriage', with the status of a concubine. When she fled and married another man, her master had her arrested and charged with bigamy. She was subsequently imprisoned for two months on remand. It is believed that if tomorrow's verdict goes in her favour, the bigamy charges will be dropped.

Speaking before the judgment, Ms Mani said: '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. Nobody deserves to be enslaved. We are all equal and deserve to be treated the same as anyone else. I hope that all those who are in slavery today can find their freedom. No woman should suffer the way I did.'

The issue has become a deeply embarrassing one for the government of Niger. Despite introducing the anti-slavery legislation, it has failed to act on evidence of its continuing and widespread existence in rural areas. But international conventions and national laws count for little compared to the centuries old 'customary law' that holds sway in rural villages and towns. According to Anti-Slavery International, Niger's courts have frequently proved reluctant to enforce law over custom.

Campaigners hope a favourable ruling may herald a major cultural shift on the issue of descent-based slavery throughout the Sahel region. The court's judgment will be binding in Niger and will be applicable in other countries in the Ecowas community where descent-based slavery exists, including Mali.

What can you say but hope that the Ecowas judges find in Hadijatou's favour and that Niger and other countries where this practice still occurs pay more than lip service to their own laws.


10 comments:

Dragonstar said...

I didn't know of this, so thank you for the information.
I do hope the decision goes in her favour - she is obviously a brave woman.

jams o donnell said...

She certainly is a brave woamn. I hope the judges do not take leave of her senses or that the Niger government presses the bigamy charges

beakerkin said...

Jams

As a former immigration officer nothing should surprise you. We hear
some strange things and many of them are even true.

jams o donnell said...

Sadly so Beakerkin. It certainly is a way to see some of the worst of people.

NIGER1.COM said...

Just follow up on this case on www.niger1.com

ELASTICWAISTBANDLADY said...

I'd probably wither away silently rather than rise up and face beatings and possible prison time and/or execution.

I can't help but marvel at this lady's tenacity and strength.

James Higham said...

The last lady I agree with. All well and good to be brave but beatings and cripplings are just that.

jams o donnell said...

thanks niger1.com

EWBL, James I agree wholeheartedly. She is a courageous woman

Nunyaa said...

Why does the world tolerate this kind of thing still? Beggars belief and we should all count our lucky stars we have not had to endure what Hadijatou Mani has and many like her.

jams o donnell said...

Agreed nunyaa. For all our isues and problems we are so fortunate not to have to face this sort of thing ourselves