Moulkheir was born a slave in the northern deserts of Mauritania, where the sand dunes are pocked with thorny acacia trees. As a child, she talked more frequently with camels than people, spending days at a time in the Sahara, tending to her master’s herd. She rose before dawn and toiled into the night, pounding millet to make food, milking livestock, cleaning and doing laundry. She never was paid for her work. “I was like an animal living with animals,” she said. All of Moulkheir’s children were born into slavery. And all were the result of rape by her master.
Moulkheir Mint Yarba escaped slavery in 2010. She has asked the Mauritanian courts to prosecute her slave masters. « I demand justice, » she says, « justice for my daughter that they killed and justice for all the time they spent beating and abusing me. »
Moulkheir wept when she saw her child’s lifeless face, eyes open and covered in ants, resting in the orange sands of the Mauritanian desert. The master who raped Moulkheir to produce the child wanted to punish his slave. He told her she would work faster without the child on her back. Trying to pull herself together, Moulkheir asked if she could take a break to give her daughter a proper burial. Her master’s reply: « Get back to work. »
“Her soul is a dog’s soul,” she recalls him saying.
Later that day, at the cemetery, “We dug a shallow grave and buried her in her clothes, without washing her or giving her burial rites.”
“I only had my tears to console me,” she would later tell anti-slavery activists, according to a written testimony. “I cried a lot for my daughter and for the situation I was in. Instead of understanding, they ordered me to shut up. Otherwise, they would make things worse for me — so bad that I wouldn’t be able to endure it.”