Slavery in Yemen: A Shocking Truth

National Yemen

Slaved Yemeni Family

Asma al-Mohattwari

“I can’t believe it. This was an impossible dream.” With these words, Nasim expressed his happiness for his freedom.

Nasim, 16 years old, didn’t know the meaning of freedom. All his family members are slaves owned by their master in Hajja. When he was six years old, his mother told him he was a slave and he had to obey his owner’s orders. Nasim’s life was miserable but it became worse when their master died. After his death, his sons disrepute what they inherited from their father and Nasim’s family became part of the sons owned and inherited, like livestock. Nasim has six siblings, a mother and a father but the family members are now separated and Nasim had to move to a new master alone.

Most Yemenis don’t know that slavery still exists in Yemen. In 2010, the first case of selling a man was observed when a Yemeni judge made a document of sale when Hamid Jubran decided to sell his slave Qanaf to Sheikh Abdurrahman Suhil. The judge’s aim was noble when he documented Qanaf’s liberation, but it was also recognition of slavery in Yemen. The story of Qanaf made people and activists aware of such phenomena. In 2013, activist Najeeb al-Sadi was able to free Nasim after many attempts. Al-Sadi decided to free all of Nasim’s family, and after two months of searching, al-Sadi found two of Nasim’s brothers, Shafiq and Abdullah but their owner refused to free them. “I will sell them if you give me $25,000,” the owner said.

The Black Box, a documentary film, recorded the freeing of Shafiq and Abdullah, and after many negotiations with their owner al-Sadi succeeded in freeing them. “I learned that I am a slave since childhood. The difference between a normal child and slave one is that they sleep with their families and have a future, while slaves do not know the meaning of the word future,” Abdullah, 13 years old, said after his liberation.

The Wethaq Organization for Human Rights conducted a field study research in Hajjah in northwest Yemen that lasted for about 6 months. It showed the presence of 190 cases of slavery in three directorates of the province.

Wethaq explained that the 116 cases discovered in  Muharraq Directorate formed 61.05% of the cases detected, and 61 cases of slavery in the Aslam Directorate formed 32.11%”, in addition to 13 cases of slavery in the Kaidnah Directorate, reaching 6.84% of cases.

The first goal of the Yemeni revolution was the liberation of tyranny and colonialism as well as to establish a democratic rule derived from the true spirit of Islam. Unfortunately, tyranny and slavery still exist in Yemen until this moment.

On December 10th of each year, the world celebrates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and celebrates the principles of freedom, justice and equality, yet Yemen is still talking about slavery. After 64 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, half a century since September 26, 1962 Yemeni Revolution that stated its primary goal as the liberation from tyranny and colonialism, and nearly two years on the revolution of February 11 that rebelled against all these negative phenomena and against injustice, tyranny and slavery, Yemen is still soaked in all kinds of slavery.

Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property and to work forcefully  with their sponsor . Often slaves can be bought and sold. Slaves can be held from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation. Historically, slavery was institutionally recognized by most societies; in more recent times, slavery has been outlawed in all countries, but it continues through the practices of debt bondage, serfdom, domestic servants kept in captivity, certain adoptions in which children are forced to work as slaves, child soldiers, and forced marriage. Slavery is officially illegal in all countries, but there are still an estimated 20 million to 30 million slaves worldwide. Mauritania was the last jurisdiction to officially outlaw slavery (in 1981/2007), but about 10% to 20% of its population is estimated to live in slavery.

Slavery predates written records and has existed in many cultures  Most slaves today are debt slaves, largely in South Asia, who are under debt bondage incurred by lenders, sometimes even for generations. Human trafficking is primarily used for forcing women and children into sex industries.

In the late 1950s, Yemen signed the Convention on the Prevention of the Slave Trade. Before that, the Islamic prophet Muhammad encouraged manumission of slaves, even if one had to purchase them first. On many occasions, Muhammad’s companions, at his direction, freed slaves in abundance. Muhammad personally freed 63 slaves, and his wife Aisha freed 67. In total his household and friends freed 39,237 slaves.

In Yemen when slaves are freed, they didn’t know where to go. They have no home, no jobs and no food. The former slave Qanaf returned again to be a slave by choice because he didn’t have shelter.

It is true that Yemeni legislation in the Constitution and laws ensure that all citizens have the right of life, liberty, personal security, employment, equality, and other rights derived from Islamic law and international conventions signed by Yemen. But Yemen desperately needs a special law to eliminate the phenomenon of slavery and punishment for those who have slaves. This legislation should have legal and humanitarian obligations towards slaves after their liberation and provide them services such as education, medicine, work, living, rehabilitation, and training to be able to engage in the community.

Journalist and activist Omar al-Amaqi says that the government doesn’t want to reduce this phenomenon because a number of members of parliament and other officials and influential people own slaves on their farms and homes.

1 Comment

  • Ownership of fellow human beings either by bonded labour or by human trafficking is a serious crime against humanity and it exists in many countries.I wonder,whether there will ever be eradicated,after all we stay in dystopia…