—On a street corner in the Senegalese capital, a group of seven barefoot children carrying bowls roam the motorway and beg for money from passersby.
Among them is a 3-year-old boy named Seck*. Seck’s clothes, like those of his friends, are dirty. It appears that he has been wearing the same clothes for weeks without washing. Not one child in the group can say a word in French, the official language of Senegal, a sign that the children are not receiving a basic education.
Child beggars like Seck are a familiar site in cities across Senegal and Mali. The majority of them, according to recent reports, are students at local Koranic schools who are forced by their religious teachers to beg on the streets.
These students, known as “talibés,” are typically sent by their families, who are too poor to take care of them, to Koranic schools—sometimes hundreds of miles away from home—in the hopes that their children will receive a decent education. Instead of an education, students are often exploited for child labor and worse.
In an effort to combat this issue, SOS Children’s Villages Belgium, in partnership with the European Union, is collaborating with SOS Children’s Villages Mali and Senegal on a three-year project to protect child beggars, restore their rights, and when possible, reunite them with their families.
So far, the project’s team in Mali has reunited 79 child beggars with their families.
“When we identify families, we talk with them to know what caused the children to go begging on the streets,” said Richard Somé Kouré, the regional coordinator of the project. “Together, we discuss how we can support them to give proper care to the children. We are working to support the long-term capacity of families to take care of their children.”
Bakary Fadiga, an institutional partnership colleague from SOS Children’s Villages Senegal, meets with Koranic teachers and other members of the community at a Koranic school in Kanda that is participating in the SOS project to protect talibé children.
The three-year initiative also includes working with local partners, such as women’s groups, public schools, and the Koranic schools, to find better alternatives for the children. Parents, caregivers and Koranic teachers receive training in children’s rights and how to generate income without forcing the children to beg.
The project also pays for children’s tuition, medical expenses and uniforms, in an effort to provide the children with a good education and keep them off the streets. The goal of the project, which ends in February 2018, is for the families who have participated to have the means to care for their children independently.
Special thanks to our colleagues at SOS Children’s Village Belgium and Jude Fuhnwi, who contributed to this story.
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