|© UNICEF Burkina Faso/2007/ Nduita|
|An adolescent detainee learns to sew as part of a vocational training programme at the Ouagadougou Rehabilitation Prison.|
By Jean-Jacques Nduita
OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso, 6 July 2007 - Staring into the air as if he were trying to forget about his misfortune, Tapsoba, 17, sits in the Ouagadougou Rehabilitation Prison (MACO) in Burkina Faso. He has been in jail for almost eight months now, after being sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment for an attempted break-in.
Tapsoba, who is the only surviving child out of eight siblings, lost his father when he was six years old. His mother sells boiled rice at a local market, yet her income was never enough to send her son to school.
Faced with the harsh realities of poverty, Tapsoba decided to leave Ouagadougou in search of a better future in a gold-mining town near Bobo Dioulasso. Desperate for money to start his new life, he tried to break into the house of a customs officer. The attempt turned his life into a nightmare.
“I was mercilessly beaten up and sent to prison. Thank God, I’m still alive,” he says with remorse.
Programme is 'bearing fruit'
In Burkina Faso, the number of children in need of special protection is on the increase, particularly in urban areas. Faced with an educational system that does not offer enough opportunities, many youths decide to move away from their rural homes. Without proper guidance, the children are tempted to commit various crimes to survive. They often end up in MACO.
UNICEF has been supporting a project to create a protective environment for children detained at the prison. The youths are offered psychosocial care as well as the opportunity to receive vocational training. Tapsoba has recently been attending a literacy class as well as learning how to sew.
“Not long ago I was unable to read or write a single word in French or in Moore [the local language]. Now I can read and understand French,” says Tapsoba.
Finding parents, reuniting families
Sometimes, the youths’ parents are not aware that their children have been imprisoned, so project staff members work to find the parents and reunite families. Negotiations are also under way to move child detainees out of prison and into a specialized, child-friendly centre.
“If we manage to secure the children’s release, we shall send them to Laye – a town located in the outskirts of Ouagadougou, where they will benefit from vocational training and psychological follow-up,” says MACO Social Affairs Assistant Anne Ouedraogo.
“Our programmes for the under-18 in prison are gradually bearing fruit,” she adds. “Last year, we had about 20 child detainees at MACO. There are only nine this year.”