Talibé Youth in Senegal: A human rights problem and how we are fighting for the kids

The plight of Talibé youth in Senegal cannot be underestimated. Approximately 50,000 children, some as young as just a few years old, are sent to live in dangerous buildings that claim to be religious schools run by a religious leader called a Maribout. In reality, little religion (or anything else) is taught and the religious leader is nothing more than a criminal.

  • Children spend their days on busy city streets begging for their meals. 

  • Children spend their days begging for spare change so they are not punished by their Maribout.

  • Children sleep in overcrowded, unsafe buildings that lack electricity and running water.

  • These children are abused. Malnourished. Unschooled. In need of government and NGO intervention.

Human Rights Watch has been documenting this problem and the following articles offer an excellent introduction to the talibé in Senegal:

Human Rights Watch article (en)

Human Rights Watch article (fr)

Les Enfants d'Abord staff were given a tour of a local daara where Talibé children live. This daara is in walking distance from our center and does not attempt to hide what it is. In each bedroom there may be 20 or more children forced to sleep there each night. There is no electricity or running water. Ventilation is poor and disease spreads quickly. This is not where children should live. It is not where anyone should live.

How do we help?

Our doors are open to all children in the community.

Our free breakfast program allows vulnerable children to sit around a table and eat with their friends. We provide nutritious food, hand washing facilities, and adult supervision that helps to build social skills, self-esteem, and other soft skills. Begging for food is dangerous and often does not result in an adequately nutritious meal. This program is supported not only by our general fund, but by local residents who are happy to see these children receiving proper care. 

We coordinate free medical care for vulnerable children who could not otherwise afford or access it. Through our partnership with a local doctor's office, we are able to provide first aid and preventative care. Given the unsafe living environment where these children live, diagnosing and treating disease early is imperative to avoid spreading it to others. 

We are a safe space for children in the community. Vulnerable children often do not have a safe environment in which they can play and just act like kids. We welcome these children into our center where they have access to clean bathroom facilities, sports equipment, toys and puzzles, all with appropriate adult supervision. By encouraging play time for these children, we build their social skills and give them a break from their otherwise hard lives.

We advocate for change. We know that this problem is bigger than our organization and that we cannot solve this problem on our own. We engage with government and civil society to develop and enforce laws and programs that will make the abuses of talibé children a thing of the past. We coordinate peaceful marches, write letters, speak on local TV and radio, and work to educate those who have the ability to help.