The Last Country To Officially Outlaw Slavery
Slavery is much more recent in some places than people think
The United States outlawed slavery with the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865. The United States’s abolition of the “peculiar institution” began a domino effect in which most of the slavery holdouts began to slowly get rid of human bondage — for good. Cuba abolished slavery in 1886. Brazil was one of the last major nations to outlaw slavery and they did so in 1888. And after that, most people considered the matter closed. Slavery was out and a rebranded colonialism was in. The Scramble For Africa began, and major powers began gearing up for major world wars all without slavery.
Through all of this, one country stubbornly held on to the institution for far longer than anyone else in the world. A hundred years longer.
The last country to outlaw slavery was Mauritania, a little-known west African nation that still turns a blind eye to the practice of human bondage today.
Slavery’s Last Official Holdout
Mauritania was a part of the French colonial territories that encompassed vast swaths of northern Africa for decades. The French declared an end to slavery in the territory in 1905 but the geography and culture prevented the ban from taking effect. Mauritania is a large sparsely populated land that is filled with vast tracts of the Sahara Desert. Slavers operate with impunity within the protection of the desert wastes outside the reach of the shriveled arm of the law.
After 1905, it took decades of pressure to force the country to officially outlaw slavery. The ban did not take effect until 1981 and even then it was nearly impossible to enforce. The 1981 ban did not have much more of an effect on slavery in the country than the 1905 ban. That is because the 1981 ban on slavery did not have a criminal component to it. People caught with slaves still could not be criminally charged.
A criminal statute did not go into effect until 2007. After the criminal statute took effect a few people were charged in a symbolic gesture to appease the international community but a widespread crackdown still did not materialize.