Human-rights activists say a slavery trial in Niger last week brought local attention to the persistent problem, but a verdict is not expected until October. For VOA, Ricci Shryock reports from Dakar.
Lawyer Helen Duffy says Hadiatou Mani was sold to her master for the price of a goat.
Duffy says evidence presented in court shows Mani was beaten, raped and psychologically abused for more than 10 years.
She said the slave owners' paperwork documents how ingrained the problem is.
"The very fact that this is governed by contracts and by certificates and that there are witnesses really shows that this is quite a pervasive and systematic problem," she said.
Judges in the Niger capital of Niamey finished hearing testimony last week as Mani's slavery case was brought before the Economic Community of West African Sates' court. Mani is accusing the state of failing to implement 2003 laws against slavery.
She says this happened when she was sentenced to jail for bigamy, after she married a man of her own choice. But a judge ruled in favor of her former slave master who said she was already married to him. She has two children from him.
Duffy, who works for the advocacy group Interights, helped the victim organize her case. She says the trial brought much-needed public attention to the issue of slavery in Niger.
"It has encouraged debate on the subject of slavery, which up until now has been completely hidden and not acknowledged by the state or discussed publicly," she added.
Under the 2003 law, it is illegal to keep slaves in Niger, but British-based Anti-Slavery International says there are still more than 40,000 slaves in the country. Niger human-rights groups say the number is still in the hundreds of thousands.
The regional court, which is usually based in Nigeria, is scheduled to reconvene in Niger in October to announce its verdict.
In the meantime, Mani has returned to her village, but she says her former master retains custody of their two children.