SOS Children's Village Aït Ourir

photo: Alexander Gabriel

In a bid to join the EU, Morocco has increased efforts to improve its human rights situation, and the frequent demonstrations that began in 2011 calling for more democratic reform have contributed towards positive change in the country. However, the living conditions of thousands of families remain extremely difficult.

Morocco continues to be a country of deep social divides

Children in our care grow up with their brothers and sisters in a loving SOS home (photo: SOS archives).
Children in our care grow up with their brothers and sisters in a loving SOS home (photo: SOS archives).

Aït Ourir has a population of approximately 20,000 and is located in Al Haouz Province, at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, around 40 km east of the city of Marrakesh. The nearby western coastal area of Morocco is the economic heart of the country and has traditionally been viewed as the gateway to the West. Agriculture is an important pillar of the economy in the region, with citruses, olives, tobacco and grains among its main products.

Like all countries in the region, Morocco was originally settled by Berber populations but is now predominantly Arab, although there are still Berber communities in rural areas. These farmers often lack access to education and live in poverty. Many of them therefore migrate to the larger cities such as Marrakesh in search of opportunity. However, Morocco continues to be a socially divided country, where certain sectors of society are often discriminated against. Fluency in French and Arabic, for example, are seen as a sign of sophistication, even though one of the country’s official languages is Amazigh (Berber).

Although there have been government measures to advance gender equality in the country, the lives of girls and women still differ greatly from those of boys and men. All children must attend school in Morocco, but it is common for girls to be taken out of school at a young age in order to help in the home, especially in low-income families. Secondary and tertiary school enrolment is still much lower for girls.

Rural migrants often struggle, and their children are at risk

Another problem caused by internal migration is that people from rural areas often do not hold professional qualifications and therefore find it very hard to get formal jobs once they arrive in the city. Often, they do not have official documents for their children (birth certificates or another form of identification) either.

Especially for single mothers, it can be incredibly difficult to meet their children’s basic needs. Prostitution is widespread in Marrakesh, catering to locals and tourists alike. In an Islamic country, women who engage in this type of work are not only breaking the law, but also run the risk of being ostracised by their family and society as a whole.

Children from struggling families are often found on the streets begging. This jeopardises their education and exposes them to dangers such as drugs, sexual exploitation and organised crime. In addition, girls and boys working as domestic servants and street vendors often become targets of child sex tourism, particularly in Marrakesh and Agadir. The SOS Children’s Village in Aït Ourir near Marrakesh provides care for children who would otherwise have no home.

What we do in Aït Ourir

SOS Children's Villages ensures that children go to school (photo: SOS archives).

SOS Children's Villages ensures that children go to school (photo: SOS archives).

SOS Children's Villages began its work in Aït Ourir in 1985.  For children from the region who are no longer able to live with their parents, 14 SOS families can provide a loving home for up to 140 children. In each family, they live with their brothers and sisters and are affectionately cared for by their SOS mother.

The children from the SOS Children’s Village attend the SOS Kindergarten here together with children from the community. They then go on to complete their primary education at the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School. This means that children from SOS families are integrated into the local community from a young age.