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Type of document: News
Topic: Evaluation
Geographic descriptors: Senegal
Language: English
Source: www.mail.google.com/mail/?auth=DQAAAHkAAAB8E54xAjTkQraaJ8wekuVgPwUqrWBmFzPp9ifkHUO74aRaRCx9TMXCCy3iVbSnlVr8JUbwP4aRAS4RXKwvbno2r-fuFtNSUzDsBontPaclIVKv_bv5KxXuGLeZFvVnRYOM8oubrA5bTJCHYsH1eZJPxtzad_ZInRbE0DSuP8874g
Date of publication: 16 June 2006
Long Abstract: WEST AFRICA: Children in danger: Begging for teachers

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

DAKAR, 16 June (IRIN) - When Ibrahima Sow turned five, he was sent away to a religious school - or daara - to learn about Islam and memorise the Koran. Forced to beg to pay his teachers and to feed himself, and beaten whenever he returned empty-handed, he finally ran away from the daara.

Small boys begging as "talibes", or disciples of a marabout teacher, are a common sight at street corners across Senegal. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimated in 2004 that there were as many as 100,000 child beggars in the country - about one percent of the population - and that talibe children were the vast majority.

Today, Ibrahima Sow is 16 years old. The following is the story of much of his childhood as he recounted it to IRIN:

"I stayed a long time at the daara. I don't know exactly how long, but I'm sure I was there for more than three years.

At the daara I used to get up at 6 a.m. and go out to beg for my breakfast as there was no food there. At 9 o'clock I'd return to learn the Koran until 1 p.m., when I'd go back out to beg for my midday meal. I'd return to the daara at 3 p.m. and stay in class until 5.

It was at 5 p.m. everyday that I had to turn over all the cash begged that day. There was no amount set but when we came back empty-handed we were beaten. They only let us buy food if we brought back a lot of money. Otherwise we didn't eat.

The toughest times were when the marabout teacher was away, because then the oldest talibes were left in charge. There were only five or six of them but they didn't treat us well. That's why I ran away from the daara.

After running off I lived on the streets for two or three months. Sleeping rough wasn't easy but I was never scared. I used to sleep under trucks or buses at bus stations. I'd chase away anyone who was already there to get some space.

I used to beg and steal and I was never caught, except for once. I was in Rufisque, outside Dakar. Me and a friend stole a cellphone and the owner saw us. He caught us and heated up a fork and a knife and then applied them to our skin. I still have burn marks on the stomach, chest, left arm and bottom.

One day I sniffed paint solvent with a gang of friends. We put the stuff on a rag and mixed it with fresh mint to hide the smell. It had no effect on me so I threw away the rag and never tried again.

I used to make love to younger boys but nobody ever did it to me. I had seen Thierno, a friend of mine who's leader of a gang of street kids, do it. So I tried. But I dropped all that when I came to live in the shelter in Pikine run by Village Pilote [an NGO that works with street children in the suburbs of the capital Dakar].

After a few months at the refuge I ran away one day because I didn't want to go to reading and writing class. One of the workers, David, tried to force me. When I refused, he pulled me by the arm to talk to me but I threw away my books and paper and fled. I lived on the street for 10 days until I bumped into a talibe who had been entrusted to my marabout teacher. He forced me to go back to the daara in where my teacher gave me some money to go home.

I finally made it to my village, Mban, three months ago. Now I work as a shepherd with my cousin.

I'd like to go back to the city, not to live on the street but to look for work, earn some money, buy sheep and bring them back to the village and raise them. But I have no choice but to stay here. My father has died and I must now help my mother who still has to bring up my two little sisters and my little brother. As the oldest I'm now in charge of the whole family and I must be responsible."

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