Talibé children in Kaolack, Senegal, in October 2015. Photographer: SOS Children's Villages Belgium Child beggars, known as ‘talibés’, are a familiar sight in cities across Senegal and Mali. Far from home, and forced to beg, their situations have been likened to modern slavery. SOS Children’s Villages together with the European Commission is running a project to protect these children, bring them home to their families, and give them access to formal education. On a street corner in Senegal’s main city, Dakar, a group of seven barefoot children carrying bowls are roaming the motorway and begging for money from passersby. Like thousands of child beggars in Senegal, not one of them can say a word in French, although it is the country’s official language – a clear sign that they are not getting even a basic education. Among them is a little boy named Seck*, aged three. Seck’s clothes are dirty, like those of his friends. It seems that Seck has been wearing the same clothes for weeks without washing. Children begging are a common sight in cities across Senegal and Mali. Locally, these children are called ‘talibés’, an Arabic word for pupils, usually boys, who live in religious schools called ‘daaras’, where the Quran is taught. How poverty makes talibés In rural areas of Senegal and Mali, many families live in extreme poverty, with many children to care for, orphaned children of deceased family members often among them. When families are unable to provide for all of them, children as young as three years old may be sent to live at daaras in cities hundreds of kilometres from home. Classroom at Daara Kanda in Kaolack, Senegal. Photo: SOS Children's Villages Belgium It’s a gamble, but the parents hope a religious education from the daara will give the child a decent education, and a better chance in life. Unfortunately, like Seck, many of these children end up begging on the streets. With limited resources, some daaras provide the children with a decent education. However, many daaras send the children out to beg on the streets to pay for their room and board and Quranic education. In reality, the actual time the children spend learning is limited, and begging on the streets exposes them to risks of violence, sexual abuse, and disease. The talibé children normally live in the daaras for up to four years; then they are asked to leave. Yet, after years away from home and begging on the streets, reintegrating with their families can also be difficult; without formal education, they have limited skills for further study. UNICEF estimated in 2004 that in Senegal alone 100,000 children, mostly talibés, were begging on the streets. A Human Rights Watch report from 2010 compared the situations of such children with modern slavery. A better life for talibés and street children In partnership with the European Commission, SOS Children’s Villages Belgium, SOS Children’s Villages Senegal and SOS Children’s Villages Mali launched a three-year project in 2015 to protect child beggars, restore their rights and, whenever possible, reintegrate them with their families. The project involves close collaboration with local partners, including women’s groups, public schools, and daaras to ensure better alternatives for the children. Mr Bakary Fadiga, a co-worker from SOS Children’s Villages Senegal, meets with community members and Quranic teachers from Daara Kanda, one of the daara participating in the project. Kaolack, Senegal. Photo: SOS Children's Villages Belgium Parents, caregivers, Quranic teachers and educators receive training about children’s rights. They also learn how to generate income without resorting to child begging. Monitoring by the project team ensures that new earned income is used for the children’s best interests. Depending on needs, some daara also receive mosquito nets, sleeping mattresses, access to safe drinking water, and other items to support better living conditions for the children who live there. The project also works to protect children who are victims of violence or abuse, and provide them with psychological and emotional care. In total, 1,500 vulnerable children in five locations across Mali (Douentza and Mopti) and Senegal (Tambacounda, Kaolack and Dakar) are being helped through the project. Family life and quality education During its first year of operation, the project team in Mali found the families of 79 talibés and other child beggars and worked with local judicial authorities to reunite them. The team brought an additional 217 marginalised and vulnerable children into the formal education system. “When we identify the families, we talk with them to know what caused the children to go begging on the streets. And together, we discuss how we can support them to give proper care to the children. We are working to support the long-term capacity of families to take care of their children,” explained Richard Somé Kouré, Regional Coordinator of the Project. In Senegal, 61 children from daaras were brought into the formal education system in the first year. SOS Children’s Villages partnered with Centre Ginddi, a state-run child welfare organisation, to temporarily host some children, while long-term solutions for their housing and care were found. To help strengthen families to care for their children, the project provided school kits and uniforms, and paid for children’s public school fees and medical expenses. Direct services are reduced each year as families become more self-sufficient through project-sponsored income generation activities. The project aims to reintegrate the children into their own communities, reunifying them with their families whenever possible, and ensuring that they have access to quality education. In each case, the project seeks to answer the best interests of each individual child. “Some child beggars from unsafe areas like Timbuktu or Gao in northern Mali may not be reintegrated into their biological families, due to risk. In this case, foster families are given enough support to care for them properly,” said Mr Somé. By the time the project ends in February 2018, the families and communities should have the capacities to care for their children independently. *Child’s name changed for privacy. Learn about more of our partnership projects for children. This project is financed in part by the European Commission. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of SOS Children’s Villages and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.