Promoting and protecting children’s rights in Africa: Case of the Talibés of Senegal.

Authors: Coordinator and members of the Implementation Clinic of the Centre for Human Rights

Henrietta Ekefre Samuel Ade Ndasi Susan Mutambasere Jonathan Obwogi

In 2012, the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria,  together with La Rencontre Africaine pour la Defense des Droits de l’Homme (RADDHO), an NGO in Senegal, submitted a case to the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC). The case concerned children forced into street begging in Senegal.

Since the 1980s, Senegal has had a challenge with access to primary education, which leaves thousands of children unable to get absorbed in the mainstream schools. Further, religion plays an important role in the upbringing of children. These have contributed to a situation where at least 100 000 children are enrolled in daaras (religious schools) often far away from their parents. The daaras are administered by marabouts who are religious leaders and not trained educators. These children who are called talibés live in deplorable and overcrowded conditions where they are subjected to various forms of abuse. The marabouts exploit the talibés by making them beg on the streets. In some instances, children are given financial targets to reach, failure of which results in punishment. There is no provision of medical care should the talibés fall sick as they essentially have to fend for themselves.

The applicants alleged that by allowing the practice of forced child begging within its territory, Senegal was in violation of several provisions of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of  the Child (African Children’s Charter) namely articles 4 (best interest of the child), 5 (survival and  development), 11 (education), 14  (health and health services), 15 (child labour), 16 (protection against child abuse and torture), 21 (protection against harmful social and cultural practices) and 29 (sale, trafficking and abduction). The applicants argued that despite the passing of laws criminalising forced begging by children, the Senegalese government had made little efforts to enforce these laws against offending marabouts.

The state contended that the protection of childhood was a priority in Senegal, in terms of both its international and constitutional obligations. It made reference to different actions adopted by Ministries to combat the issue of forced begging and highlighted the role of civil society organisations and international partners. While pointing out the political and social measures Senegal had put in place to combat forced child begging, it cited lack of resources to immediately address the issue.

In April 2014, the ACERWC concluded that the government’s failure to protect the rights of talibés constituted a violation of numerous articles of the African Children Charter, as alleged by the applicants; articles 4,5,11,14,15, 21and 29. Of particular interest is the ACERWC’s finding that Senegal is in violation of Article 11 of the African Children Charter due to its failure to provide free and compulsory education to all children, one of the primary reasons talibés are sent by their parents to the daaras. According to the decision:

the government must enforce its own laws to protect talibés from this abuse and ensure that the education received in daaras equips these children with a rounded education and does not allow forced begging.

Relevant to the right to education, the ACERWC recommended that Senegal establishes minimum norms and standards for all daaras relating to health, safety, curriculum, and quality; integrate the daaras into the formal education system; inspect the daaras regularly to ensure they meet minimum standards; and ensure the provision of free and compulsory education.

At the ACERWC’s 29th Session held in May 2017, in Lesotho, the Centre for Human Rights and RADDHO, presented a joint submission on the implementation of the ACERWC’s 2014 decision. The Implementation Unit of the Centre for Human Rights briefly highlights below some of the measures undertaken so far by the government of Senegal in implementing the ACERWC’s decision, based on available information.

  • In 2016, Senegal launched operation ‘withdrawal of street children’, which had resulted in the removal of 1,547 children from the streets of Dakar and a few hundreds returned to their families by March 2017. However, more than 1,000 of the children identified as talibés were returned to the same daaras from where they had been sent out to beg. Senegal has not conducted inspection of the daaras to ascertain their compliance with required norms and standards. In November 2017, the government in partnership with Interpol, picked up more than 50 children from the streets of Dakar and took them to shelters for interim care with a view of subsequently reuniting them with their families. Majority of the children were talibés. In the course of the same operation, five marabouts were arrested on charges of child trafficking and exploitation.
  • Senegal has developed a draft Children’s Code with a view of domesticating the African Children’s Charter, but this is yet to be submitted to parliament for adoption.
  • Senegal has also developed a draft law regulating daaras (projet de loi portant statut des daaras) with a view to integrate the daaras into the formal education sector. However, this law is only a draft and has been under review. The draft law regulating the status of daaras was developed between 2015 and 2016 and concluded around January 2017 but is yet to be adopted by Parliament.
  • Senegal has taken steps to investigate and arrest some marabouts who are perpetrators of violation of the rights of talibés. However, the rate of prosecution is very low (public prosecutors drop investigations, and judges drop charges) despite the availability of evidence of the violations.

From the foregoing, it can be deduced that some measures have been taken by the state to implement the ACERWC’s Talibés decision. However, there is more to be done in terms of the provision of quality education facilities, adoption of legislative measures as well as actual enforcement mechanism to ensure the regulation of existing daaras. The education sector in Senegal needs reform and this implores the collaboration of various national actors. At this juncture, civil society organisations and the Senegalese Committee for Human Rights amongst others, should collaborate and engage more in the implementation process, in order to ensure that Parliament adopts a Children’s Act/Code and the draft law regulating the daaras, as well as guarantee that the provision of quality education in Senegal is a major agenda in the preparation and execution of the national budget.

In conclusion, it is important to note that despite criticisms that African Union institutions for human rights promotion and protection are ineffective, the case of the Talibés indicates that notwithstanding the challenges, litigation before these institutions has the potential to create impact in the lives of ordinary citizens.

For more information, see:

About the Authors:

This piece was written by the coordinator and members of the Implementation Clinic of the Centre for Human Rights:  Henrietta Ekefre, Samuel Ade Ndasi, Susan Mutambasere and Jonathan Obwogi.  Henrietta Ekefre coordinates the Implementation Clinic of the Centre for Human Rights and is currently a doctoral candidate researching on the implementation of African human rights decisions and recommendations by domestic actors. She holds an LLM in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa from the University of Pretoria and an LLB from the University of The Gambia. Samuel Ade Ndasi, Susan Mutambasere and Jonathan Obwogi are members of the Implementation Clinic and LLM Candidates on the Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa Programme.

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One Comment on “Promoting and protecting children’s rights in Africa: Case of the Talibés of Senegal.”

  1. Thanks for raising awareness about this important issue. Francophone researchers have done interesting research about daaras that brings another perspective. See the article they wrote about it, « Arab-Islamic education in sub-Saharan Africa: going beyond clichés to build the future »: https://ideas4development.org/en/arab-islamic-education-africa/ : https://ideas4development.org/en/arab-islamic-education-africa/


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