On Monday, December 2, Tostan Community Management Committee (CMC) members from the Fouta, Kaolack, and Thiès regions of Senegal gathered at a meeting at the Islamic Institute in Dakar organized by Anti-Slavery International and the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO) to discuss the protection of children’s rights, and specifically how to improve the schools and living conditions of talibé children.

Talibés are students of Islam who are often sent from their communities to daaras (religious schools) in urban centers to gain an education from religious teachers called marabouts. In many cases the children face harsh living conditions, may be subject to forced begging and often, are not able to effectively learn or develop as intended.

Senegalese government officials and 45 local marabouts also attended the meeting, and together with the CMC members discussed what steps are already underway to improve conditions including the modernization of existing daaras and ensuring an active state role in their management. Cheikh Mbow, the Daara Inspection Director, representing the Minister of National Education, chaired the meeting. Cheikh Mbow commended the religious leaders on their dedication and action in accordance with national policy.  He assured the participants that the state would spare no effort in creating a healthy environment for all children to learn. Mouhamed Cherif Diop, Coordinator of Tostan’s Child Protection Program, presented Tostan’s child protection and daara modernization project to the government and participants. Babacar Samb, representing the government, presented the government’s plan for daara modernization.   

Khadirou Diakhaté, representing the Federation of Koranic Schools, admitted that he was initially skeptical of Tostan’s child protection initiatives, but now understood that the Federation’s objectives and strategy are aligned with Tostan’s and looks forward to coordinating activities in the future. Mame Ouna Thioye, the representative from RADDHO (Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme), spoke about the organization’s transnational advocacy work in Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania and The Gambia, highlighting the regional implications of this meeting.  

The impact of the advocacy meeting was two-fold. The open dialogue demonstrated to the government that religious leaders and community members are committed to respecting children’s rights by improving the schools and living conditions of the students and served to strengthen links between participating marabouts and representatives of the state in moving forward with the modernization process. It also showed the marabouts and religious leaders that NGOs like Tostan and Anti-Slavery International, as well as government officials, recognize and support their efforts.