Freedom of wombs

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Freedom of wombs (Spanish Libertad de vientres), also referred to as free birth, was a judicial principle applied in several countries in South America in the 19th century; it did not allow for the enslavement of slaves' children at birth. This overturned a tradition of enslavement in European colonies in the Americas where babies born to enslaved women became the property of the women's owners. Although intended to be a gradual abolition of slavery, the principle was unevenly applied and many countries did not follow through with full abolition.

The Freedom of Wombs Law, commonly referred to as The Free Womb Law was indeed a rule that all children who were born and raised from enslaved women were not enslaved at birth. This law provided protections of slave savings for each and every child, so that they could be protected, if anything were to happen. This also acknowledged that slaves could be self-purchased because they eventually did not need to get permission from, or have to really listen to their masters, and or multiple slave owners. This also allowed for potential slave registration to comply with it. It is also known that Congressional leads have changed the outcome of the Free Womb Law. These outlined the specific rules that Indigenous people had to follow in Chapter 4: Interpreting Machudo de Assis of the book entitled "Honor Status, and Law In Modern Latin America, written by Sueann Caulfield, Sarah C. Chambers, Laura Putnam and editors.[1]

By country[edit]

A movement for independence from Spain grew in the American colonies in the 19th century, influenced by liberal ideas, such as the abolition of slavery, which Mexico had declared in 1829 by President Vicente Guerrero, Great Britain in 1833, and the United States in 1865 at the end of that country's civil war. One of the first steps in gradual abolition was the Ley de Libertad de Vientres, an 1811 law written by Manuel de Salas of Chile.[2]

In Argentina, the Law of Wombs was passed on February 2, 1813 by the Assembly of Year XIII. The law stated that those born to slave mothers after January 31, 1813 would be granted freedom when contracting matrimony, or on their 16th birthday for women and 20th for men. Upon manumission, they were to be given land and tools to work it.[3] In 1853, Argentina fully abolished slavery with the Constitution of 1853.

In Brazil, in 1871 the “Free Womb Law”, also known as the “Law of 1871”, was passed. By the 1870s social tensions were rising due to slavery in Brazil. Conservatives and Parliament favored the idea of emancipating slaves and enacted a law freeing all slaves and children born to enslaved women. The "Free Womb Law" made it so that children born to a enslaved women were not enslaved and slaves themselves were consequently then granted freedom through self-purchase. Children born to slaves were now free people and this law began the process of slaves becoming free people. Slave masters had no say in the newly recognized right of freedom granted to children born to slaves. [4]

In Peru, the president José de San Martín established "the freedom of wombs" for those born after the declaration of independence in 1821.[5]

In Colombia, the Law of wombs was first passed by the government of Antioquia in 1814, but it was not until 1824 that the country accepted it.[6]

Spain passed a similar law in 1869 to apply to its plantation colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico, and passed it in 1870, to take effect in 1872. On the Iberian mainland, Spain had abolished slavery in 1837. It is also known as Ley Moret (Moret Law). [7]

Venezuela endorsed a similar law in 1821,[8] as well as Ecuador,[9] Uruguay in 1825,[10] Paraguay in 1842[11] and Brazil in 1871.[12]

The countries that first denied the enslavement of babies born to enslaved mothers proceeded to abolish slavery in total later. Similar gradual abolition laws had been passed in some of the northern United States after the American Revolutionary War, namely, New York in 1799 and New Jersey in 1804. All the slaves were freed in both states before the American Civil War.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Caulfield, Sueann, et al. “Interpreting Machado De Assis: Paternalism, Slavery, and the Free Womb Law.” Honor, Status, and Law in Modern Latin America, Duke University Press, 2005, pp. 99–99.
  2. ^ "Manuel de Salas" (in Spanish)
  3. ^ "Pasado y presente de los Negros en Buenos Aires" (in Spanish)
  4. ^ Caulfield, Sueann, et al. “Interpreting Machado De Assis: Paternalism, Slavery, and the Free Womb Law.” Honor, Status, and Law in Modern Latin America, Duke University Press, 2005, pp. 99.
  5. ^ "La sociedad a inicios de la República" (in Spanish)
  6. ^ "" (in Spanish)
  7. ^ "La Ley de Vientres Libres y los intereses esclavistas" (in Spanish)
  8. ^ "Ley de Abolición de la Esclavitud" (in Spanish)
  10. ^ "Instrumentos Nacionales de Derechos Humanos" (in Spanish)
  11. ^ "De la Independencia a nuestros días" (in Spanish)
  12. ^ "LEI DO VENTRE LIVRE" (in Portuguese)