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Street Children in Senegal -- A Challenge for the Government - 2002-09-18

The street children situation in Senegal is reaching alarming proportions. These kids spent most of their time begging for money. Many converge along the beaches smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol.

While, in Dakar, I visited Laigon Beach and spoke to some of these children. 16 year old Medou Samben spoke through an interpreter. "I escaped from my Islamic teacher and i decided to settle here at the beach. This follows constant beating by my Islamic scholar. I spent the whole day without sufficient food. I resorted to drinking and stealing."

Laigon is situated in the nation's capital Dakar, but many Senegalese are afraid to visit the area. Some of these street kids are accused of stealing and attacking passersby -- a charge they always deny. They say due to lack of parental care and support they are forced to be out in the streets. Here is 14 year old Modou Mbye. "I came to the beach ghetto as a result of persistent harassment by my aunt. She usually insulted and beat me. Now Iam here using illicit substances to entertain myself."

These street children, who appear weak and malnourished, are mainly between the ages of 12 and 17. But they were eager to be interviewed. 14 year old Ebrima Ceesay has been sleeping along the beaches for the past six months. "My father divorced my mum some years back. My dad later sent me to the Gambia, to learn the Koran. While in the Gambia, I was always harassed by my Islamic scholar. I later ran away to join the boys at the beach."

While little Ebrima Ceesay chose the beach as his safe haven others like Ahmed Sarr, say they are fed up with living there. "I have been at the beach for the past two years. I want to go back home and reunite with my family, provided that I have somebody to support me."

Seventeen year old Ousman Njie explains his ordeal. "I lost my father four years ago. Since then I have been struggling to earn a living. My Mum is unemployed so I go around the beach begging for food and money."

In an attempt to address the street children problem, President Abdoulie Wade recently made a surprise visit to the beach. The Senegalese leader reaffirmed his government's commitment to supporting the children. He promised to send them back to school.

Twelve year old Omar Jabbi was among the kids who met President Wade. "It is true President came here and gave us some bags of rice as well as money. He promised to support us but advised us to be responsible citizens."

Seventeen year old Sarjo Kanuteh also welcomed president Wade's assistance. "We are grateful to president Wade's gesture. This is the first time that a president is trying to find out our problems. " While, at the site I was met by Faraba Senghore, a government official. He said "The government wants these kids to go back to school. We don't want to see them in such a situation. As you may know it is against international law for these kids to engage in work. So we really want to bail them out from this predicament."

His comments won the applause of the children. However, when Mr. Senghore told them he came to assess their plight -- they told him nothing had changed, despite despite recent presidential promises.