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In Senegal, UNICEF and partners work to end the practice of child begging

UNICEF Image: Senegal, Child Protection
© UNICEF Senegal/2006/Bakker
Boubacar, 12, a pupil at a Koranic school, used to beg in Dakar. Now that the school has moved back to his village, he has more time for his studies.

By Nisha Bakker

DAKAR, Senegal, 14 July 2006 – Until recently, Serigne Oumar Diouf had been running a Koranic school here since 1962. “I would send children from my school out begging in the streets of Dakar for most of the day and would give them religious education in the mornings or evenings,” he says.

But with encouragement from a UNICEF-supported campaign to improve conditions for young Koranic students, Mr. Diouf has relocated his school to a rural area where they are removed from the danger of life on the streets.

Koranic schools, or Daaras, are widespread in Senegal. They have a long history dating back to the arrival of Islam and were originally part of the village community. Parents would send their children to work in the fields of the religious leader, or marabout, in return for a religious education and preparation for adult life.

The succession of droughts here in the 1970s and '80s, and changes in the national economy, saw many marabouts and their pupils, or talibés, move from the villages to the big cities, where they resorted to begging as an alternative source of revenue. Some marabouts say they do not have the financial means to take care of the boys, and that begging teaches children humility.

UNICEF Image: Senegal, Child Protection
© UNICEF Senegal/2006/Bakker
Serigne Oumar Diouf has been a religious leader, or marabout, teaching children the Koran since 1962.

Guardians of street children

An estimated 100,000 children in Senegal are forced to beg on a daily basis. These children live in harsh conditions, spending most of the day on the streets, exposed to violence, abuse and exploitation. They miss out on basic rights such as primary education, as well as access to health services. 

As part of its commitment to fight the worst forms of child labour and exploitation, UNICEF Senegal is supporting the government’s efforts to end the practice of child begging. With its partners – principally the non-governmental organization Enda Graf – UNICEF trains community leaders, marabouts and the wider public on children’s rights and child protection.

In addition, women have been mobilized to act as guardians of the street children and to initiate dialogue with mothers of talibés, in order to facilitate their reintegration into the family.

Ensuring better living conditions

Training and sensitization brought about Mr. Diouf’s important decision to move his school. He left Dakar for Pout, a village 60 km away, where he and most of his talibés come from. In Pout, he has a piece of land and a small Daara; his students have stopped begging and now work in the fields around the Daara instead.

The cultivated land provides good meals and also generates sufficient income for the school. Not being on the street all day leaves the children more time for religious education, as well as leisure and play.

Because the Daara is close to their homes, many of the students are now living with their families again. Village leaders and mothers are actively involved in ensuring good living conditions for the talibés and acting as their guardians.

“Up to three months ago I used to live in Dakar,” says Boubacar, a 12-year-old talibé. “I would be out on the streets from seven in the morning to collect money. I did not have much time to study the Koran and I was often hungry. Now we have moved to the village where I come from. All the boys in the Daara are my friends. My family does not live far from here.”

The living conditions of Mr. Diouf’s talibés have improved significantly. The challenge now is to keep moving forward to ensure child rights, access to primary education and health services for all the boys at the Daara in Pout and thousands of others across Senegal.



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