Maison de la Gare is a non-governmental organization that aims to tackle forced child begging in Senegal by reintegrating talibé children into Senegalese society. Talibés are young boys and girls who study the Quran at unregulated “daaras” (residential Quranic schools) supported by their teachers, known as marabouts. Most often, the conditions that these children live and study in are deplorable and teachers often subject students to acts of abuse. Within daaras in remote rural areas, children lack proper shelter, water, sanitation and even food. Some teachers, force children, sometimes as young as 5, into begging.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) considers forced child begging to be one of the “worst forms of child labor” as it is a violation of the basic human rights protections outlined in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Human Trafficking Search explains that forced child begging is “one of the most visible forms of human trafficking in existence: the exploited children are in plain sight, impossible to miss for any pedestrian walking by.”
A Closer Look at Forced Child Begging in Senegal
As the majority of daaras do not receive any support from the government and do not charge for food, education or accommodation, some Quranic teachers force their students to make up for it by begging for food or a few coins on the streets of Senegal. When failing to meet the specific quota for each day, these teachers subject talibés to severe abuse, Human Rights Watch reports.
The charity that children receive is passed on to their “teachers” and sometimes the leftovers they collect “may be the only food they have all day,” according to a 2021 piece by writer Fatoumata Ouedrago.
Estimates by Maison de la Gare place the number of forced child beggars in Senegal at around 15,000. “These boys are beaten into submission, punished for trying to run away and deprived of all basic human rights by their abusers.”
For families dealing with poverty, sometimes sending their children to daaras is a solution to some of their financial problems — it provides free education for their children but also makes sense logistically as often the selected school is close to their family home.
Hope for the Future
Organizations like Maison de la Gare are tackling forced child begging in Saint Louis, Senegal, by providing access to proper education in a nurturing environment and teaching skills that help children become well-equipped for their futures.
The organization started its work in 2007 and established a community center funded by international supporters. Its mission is challenging and arduous but not impossible. The main goal is to accommodate talibés into the “formal school system and prepare them to be productive members of Senegalese society.”
In order to achieve this, Maison de la Gare provides “literacy classes, hygiene instruction and nutritional support,” supplying vital medical care that talibés do not have access to and developing apprenticeship programs for older children.
Advocacy Efforts to End Child Begging in Senegal
Maison de la Gare lobbies for an end to the abuse and exploitation faced by talibés and “works to make this a central issue of political debate both within Senegal and internationally,” according to its website. To achieve these goals, Maison de la Gare strives to establish “collaborative relationships” with other NGOs, government authorities and, most importantly, “with the marabouts who are the key to realizing real change.”
As part of the “Hope for begging talibé children campaign,” the organization has managed to raise more than $190,000 to fund its efforts to support children through its welcome center, constructed in 2010.
According to its annual report, in 2021, Maison de la Gare accommodated 128 talibés, reintegrated 50 children and reunited 58 others with their families. Every month the organization provides medical treatment to 195 children and equips 102 daaras with hygiene kits.
Modern slavery occurs in almost every country in the world but is most prevalent in nations with high poverty rates. According to the World Bank’s estimates, 9.3% of Senegal’s population lived under the poverty line of $2.15 per person per day in 2018.
The most dominant form of slavery in Senegal takes the form of forced child begging and is a result of “government inaction, distorted traditions and desperate families,” Ouedrago highlights in her publication.
In addition to providing educational programs, Maison de la Gare believes that in order to significantly reduce the number of begging talibé children, the state should introduce modern regulated daaras and improve the enforcement of existing anti-forced begging legislation.
– Ralitsa Pashkuleva