Children in Senegal
The past years have been an exceptional journey for children in Senegal
The past years have been an exceptional journey for children in Senegal. The country has made tremendous progress in advancing children’s and women’s rights.
Today, children in Senegal have a greater chance of reaching their fifth birthday than ever before. Being able to go to school is now a reality for many more children.
However, much more needs to be done to create a supportive and protective environment for children and future generations. Not every child gets to enjoy a full childhood. The journey from a mother’s womb to the vulnerable adolescent years is fraught with risk and challenges.
Senegal is a youthful country. Children represent 48 per cent of the total population and one third of all children are under five years of age. With close to half of Senegalese living in poverty, the future prospects of many children are dim, and they risk becoming the next impoverished generation.
Every second household with children lives in poverty, with one third of them experiencing both monetary and multidimensional deprivations in basic social services. These challenges are compounded by population growth, estimated at 2.5 per cent annually.
The early years
Although children are more likely to reach their fifth birthday today than 20 years ago, they continue to be causalities of easily preventable illnesses and conditions such as pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria and prematurity, and of poor access to healthcare.
The maternal mortality ratio remains high at 315 per 100,000 live births (2015), as does the neonatal mortality rate, at 21 per 1,000 live births (2016).
The prevalence of stunting among children under-five decreased from 27 to 17 per cent between 2010 and 2016, although six of the country’s 14 regions have rates above 25 per cent.
Six in 10 children aged 6 to 59 months are anaemic and management of acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea and paediatric HIV are suboptimal.
Access to improved sanitation remains low at only 51 per cent, with an almost two-fold difference between urban and rural areas.
Families have difficulty accessing and utilizing services because of cost, distance and lack of knowledge and care-seeking behaviour in critical areas, such as treatment of common childhood infections, maternal health and child nutrition.
Persistent gender inequalities and adverse sociocultural beliefs and practices, including late initiation of antenatal care and women limited decision-making power are also contributing factors.
The best investment for a child’s future is to invest in the early years of their lives, through education. But in Senegal, many children miss out on this vital opportunity. Only 17 per cent are enrolled in pre-schools nationally, with large gaps between rural and urban children.
Birth registration – a key passport to protection for children – only reaches 7 out of 10 children in Senegal.
The school years
As children enter their school years, they face an uphill struggle to learn. Though Senegal has improved access to basic education considerably over the past 20 years, 4 in 10 children do not complete primary education and only 37 per cent complete a full cycle of basic education.
Over 1.5 million school-age children were out of formal education in 2016, including a significant proportion of children enrolled in Qur’anic institutions, which operate largely outside the formal education system. Girls have better access to education at preschool and primary levels compared to young boys, who are often sent to the Qur’anic schools or to work.
Child begging, including its child trafficking dimensions, has become a national issue. In 2014, an estimated 30,000 children, mostly boys, were begging daily in the streets of Dakar.
Violence against children is widespread, although not documented consistently. Major bottlenecks to improving the protection of children include persistent harmful social and gender norms. Other factors are insufficient access to protection services.
The second decade of life
Adolescence is often paradoxical – a time both of risk and vulnerability, and of peak growth and potential. In Senegal, children’s second decade of life is a challenging period.
Adolescents and youth, particularly girls, face major constraints to fulfilling their potential. In Senegal, girls have a lower rate of transition to secondary education due to gender- and school-based violence and discrimination, including early marriage and pregnancy.
An estimated 14 per cent of girls under 15 have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and, in 2016, 31.5 per cent of women 20 to 24 years old were married by age 18.
Adolescents, especially girls, have limited access to life-skills education, reproductive health services, proper menstrual hygiene or information about HIV prevention.
Harmful social norms and women’s lower status contribute to maintaining negative behaviours towards women and children, including violence against women.
Emergencies and climate change
Senegal is prone to chronic and seasonal vulnerabilities, mostly due to climate change. Drought affects the northern, central and eastern regions, causing food and nutritional insecurity, putting young children and women at risk of acute malnutrition.
Flooding is more prevalent in the urban areas of the western and central regions during the rainy season: at least 150,000 people are at risk of being affected by flooding every year and 20,000 at risk of epidemics.
Without action now, climate change will exacerbate the inequalities that children already face, and future generations will suffer.