News / Africa

Local Aid Groups Improve Life in Senegal’s Only Youth Prison

Amanda Fortier

Across many countries in Africa, thousands of young people are imprisoned without access to proper nutrition, education or healthcare, and once released, there is often little, if any, support to help them reform and reintegrate.  Aid groups are making headway to improve one youth detention center in Senegal, though the problems faced by administrators have not gone away.

Sixteen-year-old Cheikh Sow is crouching down before his teacher, reciting passages from the Koran.  It is Thursday morning, and Cheikh has just finished his morning religion class at Senegal’s only juvenile detention center, located in Dakar.

Education

Cheikh - not his real name to protect his identity - was convicted of rape last September.  He is one of 68 boys between the ages of 13 and 18 imprisoned for crimes ranging from assault and marijuana possession to petty theft and vagrancy.  Every weekday morning, the boys have mandatory classes - physical education, literacy, math, religion and even a juice-making class.  They eat three meals a day, prepare their own lunch - giant aluminum bowls filled with rice and fish - and help grow vegetables in the garden next door.

Each detainee has his own bed in one of the five dormitories with a small television, a fan, shower and toilet, and has regular access to health check-ups onsite.  Apart from the wrought-iron bars on the tiny slits of windows and doors, Fort B, as the prison is commonly known, may be something of an anomaly among youth detention centers in Africa.

Rights of the Child

Africa is the only continent that has a region-specific charter, the African Charter on the Right and Welfare of the Child - stating that the main aim of imprisoning juvenile offenders should be reform and reintegration.  Despite this U.N. document, the reality for thousands of incarcerated young people in countries such as Kenya, Sierra Leone and South Africa, is quite different.  

According to the recent documentary, “10”, released by the African Child Policy Forum, thousands of children across the continent are imprisoned as young as 10, denied proper trials, forced to live in overcrowded cells, often with adult criminals, and denied proper nutrition, healthcare and education.  

Local NGO improves conditions

Huguette Lassort is the president of Cibiti, a local non-government organization that works to improve living conditions in Senegal’s prisons.  Lassort has visited countless prisons throughout West Africa and started working with the Fort B prison nearly 20 years ago, just before it became a prison strictly for minors and when the daily budget per prisoner was around 35 cents a day - nearly a quarter of what it is today.

Lassort says in the beginning, there was no direct contact between children and family members.  The kids slept on the floor, often without a blanket, and were sent handcuffed, on public transportation to a general court.

In 2008 a new director - the first magistrate to hold this post - took over Senegal’s penitentiary system.  Since then, gradual reforms have been taking place.  Each young offender is tried on Friday mornings before a youth court.  No boys under the age of 13 can be incarcerated, and the detention process within the prison itself has been reoriented from a focus on criminalization and punishment, to one invested in reform and reintegration.

Guards as teachers

Lassort says they have finally moved from a traditional system of security at the prison with repressive guards to a system where guards have become teachers.  They have changed the word from “guard” to “supervisor”, which has a stronger connotation.  Lassort says that now rather than hitting the kids when they misbehave, or physically isolating them, the guards try to talk to them and teach them, because punishment for many of these kids inevitably makes them come back with vengeance.

Many of the boys at Fort B come from the street or from the sub-region, including Guinea-Bissau and Gambia.  When the boys are taken into custody, the priority is to first locate their families and then to mediate any conflicts between them.

Bafode Drame is a social worker with the local NGO Village Pilote.  Twice a week he goes to Fort B to counsel the boys and facilitates reintegration with the family - when they can be located.

Drame says that the majority of time they are able to locate the boys’ families or guardians, but the trouble then becomes the follow-up once released from prison: most of the parents do not want to see the social workers anymore.  In Senegal, prison is taboo, says Drame.  When the children are incarcerated, the parents say they need them, but once they are released they often pretend that they do not know who they are.  It is like they do not need them any longer.  This makes their work very difficult.

Striking a balance

According to prison staff and Lassort, there have been instances of parents dropping their kids off at Fort B in hopes they will be better provided for there.

Lassort says it is important that the prison conditions are not too luxurious and also that the prisoners learn respect - for themselves, for each other and for where they live. Lassort says when they first put in 30 new beds, they were all destroyed in six months.  This may be a form of rebellion against the society or the people that put them in prison, says Lassort, so they need to be careful about the types of improvements in quality of life they make.  She asks, if they do not respect the materials we give them inside the prison, how can we expect them to respect other things once they leave?

The average length of jail time at Fort B is between a few months and a year.  Young female offenders are housed across the city in a separate room inside the women’s prison, where they continue to wait for their own detention center to be built.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More