In a triumph of the human spirit, it was reported last week that a woman sold into slavery at age 12 in Niger successfully sued the West African country’s government for not protecting her from this barbaric practice. Besides winning her case, the woman, Hadijatou Mani, 24, who was physically and sexually mistreated for years, also experienced the satisfaction of drawing the world’s attention to the obscenity of child slavery in Islamic countries.
And perhaps no where is child slavery more prevalent in Africa than in the Sudan. A Ugandan parliamentary committee heard last week that as many as 30,000 children abducted in Uganda over nearly two decades by the savage, anti-government Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) for use in its operations had been sold in Sudan’s Darfur region. The LRA has been fighting the Ugandan government for years with Sudanese government support. After their sale in Darfur, the children were employed as child soldiers and laborers, while others were “sold as sex slaves to the Sudanese.”
When in the Sudan from 1992 to 1996, Osama bin Laden was known as one of the biggest buyers of LRA-supplied children. The Islamist Khartoum government had given the al Qaeda leader one million acres of farmland “in perpetuity” for a road he had built in their country. It is believed bin Laden wanted the children as laborers for his farm, paying the LRA the price of one Kalashnikov rifle per child.
“Terrorist Osama bin Laden has used child slaves he bought from Ugandan rebels as forced labor on marijuana farms in Sudan in order to help fund his global terrorist network,” said a Ugandan general at the time.
Canadian diplomat Stephen Lewis twice tried to speak with Sudan’s Islamist president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, about LRA children in the Sudan when Lewis was deputy director at UNICEF. Lewis wanted the children returned to Uganda, but al-Bashir, who was indicted last March by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, “categorically denied” any such children existed in his country.
“I must admit that in all my time at Unicef I had never dealt with anyone like Omar Hassan al-Bashir,” wrote Lewis recently. “I felt as though I had encountered evil incarnate. The fact that he was knowingly presiding over the death and emotional dismemberment of thousands of children mattered to him not one whit.”
Slavers from Sudan’s Arab North used to obtain most of their child victims from the country’s civil war-torn, black African South, using the brutal, old-fashion method of the slave raid. Francis Bok, a former Sudanese African child slave, who told his story in Front Page Magazine, was captured in one such horrifying raid at age seven and wrote of his years working for a cruel Arab master in his book, Escape From Slavery: The True Story Of My Ten Years In Captivity And My Journey To Freedom In America.
But a peace agreement in 2005 ended the 16-year conflict between the Christian and animist South and Muslim North. Since then, a program to repatriate the estimated 200,000 southern Sudanese slaves, mostly women and children, from the Arab North has been underway.
But peace in the South has not spared Sudan’s Darfur region, where the Khartoum government’s other civil war has been raging since 2003, from the blight of child slavery. Besides the abduction of children by slave hunters from refugee camps, a UNICEF report earlier this year indicated attacks against civilian targets to obtain child slaves is occurring once again.
The report stated that hundreds of children in West Darfur were missing after the Sudanese government-backed militia attacked and burned two towns there. But it is the disappearance of as many as 800 children that has left the UN workers scratching their heads.
“There are an unknown number of children aged 12-18 who are missing, especially boys. Nobody knows what happened to these children,” said a UN official.
Besides their own personal depravity, a main reason why Islamists like bin Laden and al-Bashir, who is reputed to own slaves himself, do not care “one whit” about enslaving children is that under sharia law, which rules the Sudan, they are legally allowed to own slaves. Bernard Lewis, the eminent scholar of Islam, writes “ the institution of slavery is not only recognized but is elaborately regulated by Sharia law.” Another important reason is the Muslim prophet Muhammad was also a slave owner.
But while only infidels are supposed to be enslaved, Sudanese Muslim children, like those in Muslim Darfur, also fall victim to this inhuman practice. But in these cases it is not religion that matters but rather race. In her book Slave: My True Story, Mende Nazir, a Muslim African girl captured at age 12 during a slave raid on her village in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, wrote her Arab mistress’s racism never allowed her to acknowledge Nazir’s religion, although she prayed five times a day. Nazir was simply told that Islam was not for black people.
Like Francis Bok, Nazir also escaped, but from her mistress’s sister’s house in London, England, where she had been sent to work. The husband was the press attaché at the Sudanese embassy. Part of his job would have been to deny to Westerners the existence of child slavery in the Sudan.
The death and psychological destruction of innocent slave children in the Sudan and other countries goes largely unnoticed in the West. For it to disappear, Western countries would have to act with resolution and not with mere words. Boycotting the upcoming West- and Israel-bashing Durban II conference and substituting a world child anti-slavery conference, with the focus on the Sudan, in its place would be a start. Electing Hadijatou Mani as its honorary chairwoman would be its light of hope.
Read the entire article on the Front Page Magazine website (new window will open). Reprinted with permission of Front Page Magazine.