Children’s welfare in Senegal
This case addresses the plight of as many as 100,000 children (known as talibés), who while attending Qur’anicschools (daaras) in Senegal, are forced by some instructors to beg in the streets, to secure their own survival and enrich the teachers. The children live away from their families, often in deplorable conditions, and are exposed to brutal physical assaults, malnutrition, illness, sexual abuse, and several other vulnerabilities. The forced begging leaves no time for a proper education. In 2012, the Centre for Human Rights jointly with La Rencontre Africaine pour la Defense des Droits de l’Homme, submitted a communication (case) on this matter to the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Committee).
The Committee found Senegal accountable for the activities of these schools even though they are non-state entities. It reasoned that the State has an obligation to protect the rights of the child which requires measures by the State to ensure that third parties (such as individuals and institutions) do not deprive children of their rights. Senegal has legally prohibited forced child begging but the Committee did not view this as sufficient. Since Senegal has done little in practice to effectively enforce these laws, the Committee found that Senegal has violated numerous provisions of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child including the principle of the best interests of the child; the rights to survival and development, education and health; the prohibition of child labor; and the prohibition of forced child begging.
The Committee has issued several recommendations which include, calling on Senegal to: arrange for all talibés to be immediately taken back from the streets to their families; organize medical and social assistance for the talibés; ensure that all daaras meet basic human rights standards relating to health, education and accommodation; and provide free and compulsory basic education.
Implementation of the decision is currently in progress. In fact, it would seem that the submission of communication in 2012 to the Committee prompted the government of Senegal to take several steps to address the practice of forced child begging. For example, the National Strategy on Social Protection and the National Strategy on Economic and Social Development were adopted in 2013 and they both address issues concerning the protection of children. Furthermore, in 2013, a national policy focusing on childhood was adopted which includes sections focusing on the eradication of forced child begging. This policy has generated several initiatives, which include the mapping of daaras, the declaration of the President to shut down all illegal daaras, and sensitization programs on the issue of child begging. However, these steps have not yet led to meaningful results in ameliorating the situation of the talibés. Much remains to be done.
Senegal is a party to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and effectively implementing the Committee recommendations will constitute concrete measures towards meeting its obligations under the Charter. In its decision, the Committee explicitly states that in compliance with its reporting obligations, Senegal should report to the Committee within 180 days from receipt of the decision, on all measures taken to implement the recommendations.
The groups involved in this case are the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria and the NGO la Rencontre Africaine pour la Defense des Droits de l’Homme (RADDHO), based in Dakar, Senegal.
This case is significant as it is one of only three decisions of the Committee to date. The decision is particularly important as it emphasizes that states are not merely responsible for providing formal legal protection, but also for ensuring effective implementation of laws. Bridging the gap between norms and practice is essential towards transforming the normative promise of socio-economic rights into tangible reality. Moreover this case breaks the common trend of governments denying responsibility as here the Government of Senegal adopts a collaborative approach towards finding sustainable solutions.
Frans Viljoen, Director of the Center for Human Rights, one of the groups that filed this case, said that, “As it is deeply embedded in Senegalese culture, the practice of juvenile begging within the framework of private religious schools is difficult to uproot. The Senegalese government has been struggling with this issue for years. One hopes this finding will give impetus to these efforts.”