The forgotten of Saint-Louis

Photo: Lorenzo Mancini


A real scourge in West Africa, particularly in Senegal, the scandal of the so-called talibé children is today an internationally recognized problem. A consequence of the Senegalese authorities’laxity, the country currently has hundreds of thousands of children living in unsanitary conditions and forced to beg for many hours a day, all under the veil of a pseudo-Koranic education inculcated by an unscrupulous false marabout whose influence they live under. Here we shed light on a form of modern slavery described as it is experienced in the district of Sor Pikine in Saint-Louis.

Between 400,000 and 700,000 is the estimated number of talibé children in Senegal. By definition, a talibé child means a student of Islam. These students are most often boys between five and fifteen years old. Islam being the predominant religion in Senegal, the country has a plethora of Koranic schools called daaras. A daara is led by a marabout, a scholar of Islam who has a role as educator to these young children. Families send their childrens to daaras so that they receive a Koranic education supplemented by practical training in community life. However, since marabout status is not subject to any government regulations, a profusion of “false marabouts” are seen to disregard the role given to their well-meaning counterparts.

Indeed, false talibés are nothing less than a “business” exploited at the will of these jailers. Forced to beg in the town’s streets, the talibés have the duty to collect a certain amount of money for their marabout. A severe punishment is inflicted on any child not reporting the amount laid down (physical or sexual violence). Although begging is part of the children’s education in Senegal to learn patience, humility and income sharing, it is not supposed to occupy most of their day. This drift towards slavery is nevertheless maintained by many marabouts (not all) who are anxious for personal gain at the expense of the deplorable life quality of the children they are supposed to educate.

About the author:
Lorenzo Mancini is a belgian photographer living in Tournai.

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