Photos: Slavery's last stronghold

Updated 11:20 AM ET, Tue May 31, 2016
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In 1981, Mauritania became the last country in the world to abolish slavery. Edythe McNamee/CNN
The Saharan nation in West Africa has one of the highest proportions of enslaved people. Edythe McNamee/CNN
CNN traveled to Mauritania in December 2011; foreign journalists aren't allowed to talk about slavery, and the reporters had to conduct many interviews at night and in secret. Edith McNamee/CNN
Slaves typically aren't bought and sold in Mauritania; they're born into slavery. Edythe McNamee/CNN
Lighter-skinned Arab people enslaved darker-skinned sub-Saharan Africans centuries ago. Some of those ties remain intact. Edith McNamee/CNN
The activist group SOS Slaves was formed in Nouakchott, Mauritania's capital, in 1995. It works to free people and is trying to bring legal cases against slave masters. Edythe McNamee/CNN
A former slave owner, Abdel Nasser Ould Ethmane, co-founded the abolitionist group. He partnered with Boubacar Messaoud, whose family was enslaved. Edythe McNamee/CNN
Moulkheir Mint Yarba escaped slavery in 2010. She says all her children are the result of rape by her master. Edythe McNamee/CNN
Government officials deny slavery is real. "All people are free in Mauritania and this phenomenon (of slavery) no longer exists," said one official. Edythe McNamee/CNN
Life in Mauritania is hard for both slaves and some slave masters. Forty-four percent of people live on less than $2 per day. Edythe McNamee/CNN
Escaped slaves learn to sew, cook and braid hair at a rare training center in Nouakchott. Edythe McNamee/CNN
"This is another way to liberate them," says the center's director. Edythe McNamee/CNN
SOS Slaves, the abolitionist group, runs the school with funding from international agencies. Edythe McNamee/CNN
In a city market, locals purchase brightly colored fabric to make dresses and headscarves. Edythe McNamee/CNN
In Atar, the sand dunes give way to mountains and plateaus. Edythe McNamee/CNN
Biram Dah Abeid runs an abolitionist group called IRA Mauritania. He says he's been arrested and tortured for speaking out. Edythe McNamee/CNN
Yebawa Ould Keihel was liberated from slavery years ago but still refers to his former masters as family. Edythe McNamee/CNN
Residents of so-called slave villages don't work in the homes of their masters. But masters may still exercise property rights over them. Edythe McNamee/CNN