Yesterday, a West African court found the government of Niger guilty of failing to protect Hadijatou Mani from slavery. Twenty-four year old Mani was sold to a man at the age of 12 for the equivalent of $500 to carry out domestic work and was forced to "marry" her master. Mani was raped and physically abused until local human rights organizations with the support of Anti-Slavery International helped her receive a "liberation certificate" in 2005. When Mani attempted to marry another man, she was eventually charged with bigamy and sentenced to six months in prison. Mani took her case to the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Court of Justice and the court ruled in her favor and ordered the government of Niger to $19,750 to Mani.
The ruling is important because it increases pressure on Niger to take stronger action to stop slavery and forced labor. It also may encourage other West African nations, like Mali, to follow suit. It is also exciting to see ECOWAS taking action to stop forced labor.
Romana Cacchiolo, Africa Program Coordinator for Anti-Slavery International, said: "This historic verdict sets a legal precedent that we can take to neighbouring states where slavery remains an issue. Niger now needs to look closely at its customary law courts to ensure that there is an end to the discrimination of women and to the acceptance of slavery at a local level."
Ilguilas Weila, President of Timidria, an anti-slavery NGO in Niger which helped Mani, said: “For 17 years we have been working towards bringing slavery to the attention of the authorities. Previously there has been a lack of political will to deal with the situation on the ground. The law in 2003 was passed only as part of a charm offensive to please westerners. This verdict means that the state of Niger will now have to resolve this problem once and for all.”
Of course the ruling has a huge impact on Ms. Mani herself. Yesterday, she said, "With the compensation I will be able to build a house, raise animals and farm land to support my family. I will also be able to send my children to school so they can have the education I was never allowed as a slave."