Traditional or Chattel Slavery

Traditional slavery, often called chattel slavery, is probably the least prevalent of the contemporary forms of slavery. According to the American Anti-Slavery Group, in Mauritania—where slavery was legally abolished in 1980—90,000 darker-skinned Africans still live as the property of the Muslim Berber communities. Although the Africans in Mauritania converted to Islam more than 100 years ago, and the Qur’an forbids the enslavement of fellow Muslims, in Mauritania race seems to outrank religious doctrine. Such chattel slaves are used for their labor, sex, and breeding, and they are exchanged for camels, trucks, guns and money. Children of chattel slaves remain the property of their master. And even among freed slaves, a tribute is often paid to former masters, who also maintain inheritance rights over freed slaves’ property.

In Sudan, slavery is making a comeback as the result of a war waged over the past twelve years by the Muslim north against the Christians and Animists in the south. Sudan means "land of the blacks" in Arabic, and for centuries black Africans were abducted in Sudan as part of the Arabian slave trade. Anti-Slavery Group researchers have described a revival of a racially-based slave trade, where armed northern militias raid the southern civilian villages for slaves. Reports to the UN Commission on Human Rights have underscored the racial aspect of such practices: victims are exclusively persons belonging to the indigenous tribes of the Nuba Mountains (darker-skinned Africans). Government-armed Arab militias are known to kill the men and enslave the women and children as personal property or to march them north to be auctioned off and sold.


  • The 1926 Slavery Convention
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

Content by Mini Singh
Research Analyst, FSE

Content in Arabic by Raja El Habti
Research Assistant, FSE