Servile Concubinage

Traditional servile concubinage takes different forms, but usually involves either the selling of a girl-child or a young woman by her parents or clan into concubinage, or the transfer of a woman as property to another man on the death of her husband.

In the Kingdom of Nepal, this occurred in a traditional form, such as the badinis and helambus, where the girl-children had to be offered by the serfs as servile concubines to their feudal or royal overlords.  Following the overthrow of the Ranas, these traditional forms of servile child concubinage have degenerated into a commercial industry in the cities.

The tradition of servile marriage still exists in Ethiopia, where it is common for a man to assault and defile an underage girl against her will. Once the girl is assaulted and defiled, the man goes to her father and demands the girl as his wife. The father and the girl have no option but to agree: if they refuse, no other man will marry the girl.

This tradition of servile marriage was recently highlighted by a girl who had been kidnapped by a man and his gang, who intended to defile her. She escaped and murdered her pursuer. The case highlighted the plight of girls who, after experiencing the trauma of the assault, must spend the remainder of their lives as the servile wives of their assaulter.  

Under Article 1(c) of the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery 1956, parties to the Convention are required to adopt measures to bring about the complete abolition of any institution or practice whereby:

  • a woman (without her consent) is given in marriage on payment in money or in kind;

  • her husband or his family or clan has the right to transfer her to another person for value received or otherwise; or

  • she is inherited by another person when her husband dies.

The material in this report is based on Missions to various parts of Africa by the Society's Secretary-General.

Unfortunately, due to its limited financial resources, the Society is not currently operating any program in Africa and Asia dealing with this issue.


Links to other pages dealing with related issues:

Odalisques: modern harem slaves

Trafficking of women

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  2003 by the Anti-Slavery Society. The text on any page may be reproduced provided that the source is acknowledged.  This does not apply to photos.