Senegalese police sweep children off streets

2016-07-23 14:44
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Dakar - In recent weeks, packs of shoeless boys and girls have been coaxed off the streets where they have spent their childhoods, crying and frightened as they are loaded onto buses in the Senegalese capital Dakar.

The crackdown on child begging comes after years of inaction and is praised by children's groups but greeted with anger by powerful Islamic figures in the west African nation.

The children are from a mix of poor or homeless families and others known as "talibes" - boys sent out to beg by Islamic tutors to make money for their boarding schools.

Found on streets

They are brought to Guinddi Children's Centre in the capital accompanied by social workers, where they are interviewed and checked for signs of maltreatment and disease.

"The children are generally unaccompanied. When they come here we ask them for the telephone number of their tutor or Koranic teacher and they give it to us," explained Maimouna Balde, director of the Guinddi centre.

Parents, or Islamic teachers known as "marabouts", will generally come and pick up the children themselves, Balde said, whereupon the centre's staff explain that if their charges are found on the streets again they will be prosecuted.

The operation will continue "for as long as there are children on the streets," she said.

With 270 street kids picked up in the first two weeks of July in Dakar, according to the authorities, the initiative is a long way from dealing with the almost 30 000 talibes estimated to be begging daily.

Often from poor rural families, the talibes are sent to Dakar and other Senegalese cities nominally to memorise the Koran, but are often left vulnerable to abuse and receiving little education.

Child beggars

Sometimes the journey home is long: on July 11 nine children were repatriated to neighbouring Guinea after being collected from the streets, according to one Guinean charity.

The current crackdown is the first time a decade-old law has been firmly applied, with parents or guardians of child beggars potentially facing two to five years in jail and fines of up to about $3 355.


Read more on:    senegal  |  west africa

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