Research project

Children from the streets - Education - Ethics

This article uses data from a field study conducted with the actors involved in providing humanitarian assistance to street children in Saint Louis of Senegal. It develops a reflection about these children’s active social role in view of the humanitarian transition.

In such a historic and religious city as St Louis, the vast majority of these children are said to be « Talibe », handed over by their parents to a Koranic master in order to learn the Holy Book. They become street beggars to provide themselves with food as well as to pay for their tuition.

The author shows how the associative network, which has spread considerably over the past decade, is playing a key role in terms of mediation between the State and the street. As a plan for children’s withdrawal from the streets has been announced by President Macky Sall, an involvement of civil society by the State would improve actions by working closely with the children and their tutors (religious leaders, godmothers, older Talibes…). As the children are becoming more and more active in designing their own urban experience, for instance by using the opportunities offered to them such as humanitarian support, it seems that non profit organisations, with more resources and legitimacy, could push forward a constructive consensus with the children conducive to getting them off the street.

In this context, it appears necessary to methodically apply the ethical principles favouring autonomy and benevolence in order to overcome a utilitarian approach of humanitarian action, and move on to a concerted withdrawal of children from the streets. If such an approach is not implemented, there is a great risk that removing the children from the streets will finally mean for them less freedom, by taking a number of both sanitary and social resources away from them, which were so far provided by the communities. They would therefore be more dependent on Koranic schools which can be marginalised, out of control and at times not respectful, either of national laws or basic children’s rights.