News from Maison de la Gare

The Struggle Continues

Issa Kouyaté reports on the rescue of 28 talibé boys abandoned in the street

At the height of the shut-down in Saint Louis due to Covid-19, Maison de la Gare rescued talibé children from the street in the Leona district of the city. These children originated from the town of Kaffrine in central Senegal and from a neighboring village.

The daara involved in this story has always been a source of concern because of the harsh education system used with its talibés. Many runaways whom we have recovered from the streets in recent years have come from this daara. As a result, the prefect of Saint Louis ordered that the daara be closed. The marabout responded by moving to another location in the same neighborhood.

The new location that the marabout found was in a building under construction. He rented this half-finished house, and the children themselves paid the rent from the proceeds of their begging. The walls were ready, but there were no windows or doors and no electricity or water. The house was deteriorating day by day and the landlord gave an ultimatum to the marabout to find another place, because he wanted to finish the construction.

After six months, the owner forced the children out. He barricaded the house because the talibé children, now abandoned by their marabout, had no other place to stay and always returned, jumping over the fences to sleep there at night. The marabout had returned to Saloum in southern Senegal to tend to his crops there, leaving the children to their own devices. They relied on neighbors to give them leftover food.

It was at this point that a concerned neighbor called Maison de la Gare to inform us about this desperate situation and to urge us to come to the aid of these children. We went to the premises and, to our great surprise, recognized many children whom we had found on the streets in the past and had registered as runaways or as victims of abuse. We first called the marabout who told us that he was absent from the city and that the older talibés, the assistant marabouts, would take care of the situation.

However, with the risk of Covid-19 and the desperate situation of these children, we could not leave things as they were. We invited all the children to join us at our center. At the same time, we filed a complaint with the authorities, informing them that these children had been abandoned by their marabout.

Maison de la Gare decided to take care of the children until they could be returned to their families. After the marabout had been charged by the authorities, we were granted a temporary custody order. 32 street children were entrusted to us and, of these, 28 were to be returned to their families. The four talibés who were not returned were sons of marabouts who did not want their children to return to the village. The 28 children spent 21 days living in our center before the court issued an order for their immediate return to their families.

Issa and our street educator Mamadou Gueye accompanied the children for the return trip, which turned out to be a 23-hour journey. This return trip was organized with the support of the Saint Louis public prosecutor, who took care of the security of the convoy and provided instructions for where each child was to be taken. They also contacted authorities in Kaffrine and the village for case-by-case follow-up.

The village chief welcomed the children, as the families had not travelled to meet them. All documents confirming transfer of responsibility for the children were stamped by this village chief. However, after we had returned to Saint Louis, we learned that the families had rejected allowing their children to remain in the village.

The marabout returned to the village about a month later and, with the parents’ consent, once again took charge of most of the returned children. He travelled back to Saint Louis with them, and the children returned to begging for him on the streets.

But all is not lost. The marabout now knows how far we can go to protect the children, to the extreme if we must. The prosecutor ordered that the former premises be closed, and this was done. The marabout has rented a new site where basic sanitary and safety restrictions will be respected. Also, we are now in regular, direct contact with the children of this daara, and they no longer feel desperate to run away. The marabout is following the measures ordered by the authorities for the children's protection.

These children now understand what abuse is, and they know what they must do if they are abused.