By Oumou Khary Fall
Thousands of street kids wander the streets of its cities especially the capital Dakar.
It’s a daily ritual for many of these kids.
Every day Ibrahima Diallo gets up at dawn. After his daily Koranic lesson, and the dawn prayer, the young teenager ventures in the streets of Dakar, the overcrowded capital of Senegal, hoping to find something to give to his master in line with a time-honoured tradition well rooted in some Muslim sects of West Africa.
“Every night, I have to bring him CFA500. Until I find this, I don’t stop wandering around,” said the 16-year-old, sporting dirty clothes in the middle of five of his companions who look no better.
“I can’t remember the last time I saw my parents,” he said.
In Dakar, as in most of the largest cities in the western part of the continent, thousands of children and teenagers are forced to beg by their Koranic masters.
“One of the latest government studies from 2014 estimates that there are nearly 30,000 street children in Dakar alone,” said Mamadou Wane, a sociologist specializing in child policy and coordinator of the Platform for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (PPDH, a collective of Senegalese associations).
Ibrahima said he likes Dakar, where life is “better” than in his village in the Kolda region, more than 700 kilometres south-east.
But, the teenager is not always able to find what to take back to his master, except by “stealing” or taking the money of his young classmates.
The practice is common among Ibrahima and his peers.
In the “daaras” (Koranic school in Wolof), it is common for talibés (street children) to be violently punished if they fail to raise the daily sum dictated by the master.
According to Senegal’s Director of Child Rights Protection, Ndiokhobaye Diouf, “begging brings in more than CFA100 million a year, and two-thirds of this amount is paid to Koranic masters.”
In Dakar as elsewhere in West Africa, Ibrahima and her mates have their favourite places - restaurants, shops, banks, intersections most frequented by motorists, chic districts too.
According to a report published in June 2019 by the NGO Human Rights Watch, Senegal has about 100,000 talibés “forced to beg every day.”
This is a huge figure for a country of only 15 million inhabitants.
By way of comparison, Morocco, with a population more than twice that of Senegal, has about 25,000 children living in the streets.
On June 30, 2016, the Senegalese government launched an operation to clear street children from the streets.
But due to a socio-cultural backlash, it led to the withdrawal of only 1585 children in 2016, including 400 foreigners returned to their countries of origin and 339 in 2018.
Among the means used to convince children, parents and Koranic teachers to collaborate in this programme, “the government has financed micro-projects for 15 Daaras and granted family security grants for 60 households,” said Diouf, who rued the fact that “the phenomenon is still alive and kicking.”
According to UNICEF, there are 120 million street children in the world, 30 million of them in Africa.
“In many large and medium-sized African cities, this is a real phenomenon,” said Mamadou Wane.
However, for this former UNICEF official the situation is different from country to country and regions.
“In East Africa, it is insignificant compared to other areas such as West Africa for example. Some countries, such as Rwanda, have defeated it through legal mechanisms and smart policies,” he said.