Although he was born free, Biram Dah Abeid and his family know well the pain of slavery. Dah Abeid and his family are from the West African country of Mauritania. His father married a slave woman and they had two children, but the courts ruled that they could not live together without the slave master’s permission. According to the courts, his father’s wife was considered property, “just like [the slave master’s] cow or their sheep.” The judge went on to say that the couple’s children did not have a father, only a “ ‘progenitor,’ because slavery is transmitted through a mother’s bloodline.” Dah Abeid’s father never reunited with his first wife, and the laws by which the court ruled are still upheld today.
These are not the only challenges to freedom that still exist in Dah Abeid’s homeland. Buying and selling human beings, raping and castrating people simply because they are black, and supporting such practices with national law sounds unfathomable. Archaic. Terrifying.
And yet these very practices are ongoing and have been for years in Mauritania. While officially abolishing slavery in 1981, Mauritania is cited as having one of the highest rates of slavery in the world, with the U.S. Department of State estimating that up to 20% of the country’s population is enslaved.