28 Oct 2008

Ex-slave wins landmark case

3:52 pm on 28 October 2008

A West African court has found the state of Niger guilty of failing to protect a woman from slavery.

In a landmark case for the region, the regional Court of Justice found in favour of Hadijatou Mani, who says she was sold at the age of 12 and made to work for 10 years.

A judge ordered the government - which says it has done all it can to eradicate slavery - to pay her 10 million CFA francs ( $US19,750). There is no right of appeal.

Despite being outlawed, slavery also persists in other West African states.

The BBC reports it is still practised in Mali and Mauritania.

Ms Mani, now 24, says she was sold to a man called Souleymane Naroua when she was 12. The price was the equivalent of about $US500.

She says she was forced to carry out domestic and agricultural work for the next 10 years.

Ms Mani says she was raped at the age of 13 and forced to bear the man's children. She told the BBC she was beaten many times.

In 2005, her master freed her and gave her a "liberation certificate", reports Anti-Slavery International, which helped her bring the case.

Bigamy charge

Ms Mani was once jailed for bigamy by a Niger court when her former master opposed her marriage to another man, insisting she automatically became his own wife when he freed her in 2005.

She took her case to the Court of Justice of the West African regional body Ecowas earlier this year.

Ms Mani accused the government of Niger of failing to protect her from slavery, which was criminalised five years ago.

London-based Anti-Slavery International says 43,000 people are enslaved in Niger despite the 2003 law.