The talibés of Senegal: a controversial issue, still unresolved.

by Pablo Elorriaga

Ever since I knew I was going to be deployed in Senegal, I started doing some research on social issues that might affect the local population and, more specifically, the children.

A big issue seemed to be that of the so-called talibé, a word used to describe the children of the streets, but which literally means “student who learns the Coran”, normally within the daaras (religious schools) run by a marabout, who is the responsible of their learning process and also forms them around the necessary skills for everyday life and accompanies them in their growing process as the adults of tomorrow.

In the beginning, schools that taught the Word of Allah were only in the rural areas, and children would come to them from nearby households, so their parents kept always track of the kids, and this way, the children would have a complete religious education, complementary to the formal education received in the public schools.

Times change and also the role of some so-called marabouts, for some of them have decided to take advantage of a long tradition and to create daaras in towns and cities far from the origin of the children attending them. That way, most parents lose track of their children and, deceived, send them to faraway places where the marabout forces them to mendicity and, in several certified cases, does not take good care of them. On top of that, many physical punishments towards the little ones have been observed by different associations such as Human Rights Watch, and some of these child-abusers are being taken to court.

Luckily, social awareness and criticism is raising amongst the Senegalese population, who is starting to see the dark side of this modern misuse of very respectful ancient practices.

This is also part of the everyday life here in Saint Louis (Senegal), one of the most beautiful towns of the country, but with around 15,000 talibés begging for money or food on the streets. The total amount of these children is estimated to be around 50,000 at a national scale (source: Planeta Futuro, EL PAÍS).

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