She was the daughter of slaves and was sold off at the age of 12. She was bought by El Hadj Souleymane Naroua, a local landowner for 320 Euros. During her first year she did housework and worked in the fields where she was raped by Naroua for the first time when she was 13. From that time onward she also became a sexual slave and was beaten daily for disobedience. During 9 years of slavery, she had three children. Only two survived and they live with their father.

Although seemingly powerless and trapped in a terrible life of slavery in Niger, Hadijatou Mani decided to speak out and stand up for herself.

With the help of the NGO, Anti-Slavery International, whose aim is to abolish slavery wherever it may be found, and its Niger affiliate, Trimidi, Hadijatou faced her ‘owner’ Naroua, who initially ‘freed’ Mani but insisted she remain as his fifth wife.

She refused his offer and the courts agreed with her stating there had never been consent in their relationship nor a religious ceremony or a dowry. Naroua then took the case to a higher court that determined, according to tradition, that a slave is, de facto, married to her master once she is freed.

Meanwhile, Mani had willingly married a man with the consent of her brother. Naroua then accused her of bigamy and won his case in court. Mani, her husband and her brother had to pay a fine and go to jail. They appealed the sentence and were freed two months later.

Hadijatou Mani 

After being released from prison, Hadijatou, who is unusually strong for the society in which she lives, decided to continue the fight and denounced the Niger government and her old “master” and to reclaim her children.

After several sentences handed down by local courts, most of which were adverse according to tradition, she took her case to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Finally, on October 27th 2008 the sentence of ECOWAS was published condemning the government of Níger for not having met its obligations in defending its citizens against an illegal practice: slavery. The state was required to compensate her in the amount of 19,000 dollars for damages caused.

Hadijatou thus became the first African  first ex-slave to take her government to court for her freedom and the first one to win.

Curerntly, Hadijatou Mani is awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit to recover her two children who are still living with her old “master”. The decision is expected soon. She is also trying to get the prison sentence passed down against her old “master” put into effect.

Although Niger outlawed slavery in 2003, the practice still continues and manifests itself through the trafficking of mostly women and children — not just in Niger but in many other parts of the world as well.

Facing power with truth, demanding justice and making change possible are things that are easier said than done. It takes courage, resilience and a belief in one’s own voice and truth — qualities that Hadijatou, possesses, not out of her wealth or education but out of her simple and most essential belief in human dignity and women’s rights to equality and justice.

“I knew that this was the only way to protect my child from suffering the same fate as myself. Nobody deserves to be enslaved,” Hadijatou has said.

“It is not easy to know you are worth more than what you are being told, to know you have the right to stand up against injustice, to know the world is still beautiful and safe despite its horrors. Not too many of us have the constitution to stand against power as Mani did when she took her country to a West African court for failing to enforce its own laws and denying her right to freedom,” said Zainab Salbi in TIME Magazine commenting on Hadijatou’s courage.

I hope we can all have the backbone of this humble, woman who stood up for her human rights and that of others, facing the giants of evil, slavery and government and eventually won the ultimate war for her personal freedom.

Despite the Slavery Convention (which outlaws slavery in 1926) and being ‘officially banned’ in almost every country, slavery still exists in large scale, both in traditional forms and ‘new slavery’. According to a study published in 2000, could be about 27 million slaves worldwide. In the study published by the International Labour Organization (ILO), in 2012 is estimated at about 20.9 million, so for every 1000 people worldwide, 3 are victims of forced labor.

The challenge  is clear: What are you going to do about modern day slavery?

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Note:

‘J’Accuse’, a documentary about Hadijatou’s fight for freedom is currently in pre-production – The producers still need funding and support to complete the film. Please visit http://www.hadijatou.org and their crowd-funding page – http://www.sponsume.com/project/hadijatou-jaccuse to see how you can help with the project.

Sources:

TIME Magazine: Hadijatou Mani – Heroes and Icons, by Zainab Salbi. (Salbi is an author and the founder and CEO of Women for Women International, a global nonprofit assisting female survivors of war.)

Hadijatou J’Accuse: http://www.hadijatou.org

 

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