Begging for Change: A photographic study of the Talibé children in the cosmopolitan areas of Senegal

"Talibé is a word derived from Arabic that means disciple or follower. In Senegal, talibé is the term used for a boy who is forced to beg on the streets as part of his Koranic education. Most live in a daara—a run-down shack that doubles as a Koranic school and is shared with up to 25-30 other boys. The daara is controlled by a marabout (teacher) who receives the cash collected by the boys. Their humid, cramped, airless living quarters provide ripe conditions for the spread of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. Latrines and running water are non-existent. The children rarely bathe. They sleep, eat and work in the same clothes. Some marabouts insist that children don’t bathe or wash their clothes so people will pity them and give more. They have no choice but to beg neighbours for dinner leftovers—often their first and only meal of the day. According to a recent study, up to 80 per cent of the street children have been sexually abused, making them vulnerable to AIDS. There are also reports of talibés being abducted. Where they live in the daara, they fear not only beatings from their marabouts, but from each other. Physical abuse, including sexual exploitation, from older boys is the law of the daara. Their parents—usually poor farmers—send their boys, ranging in age from five to 14, to the city to study Islam and memorize the Koran. But the pupils actually spend little time studying and are forced by their marabout to beg on the streets for cash and food. Many parents are not aware that their children are being exploited in the city. In Senegal, the problem is particularly complex, entangled with religion, economics, politics, social values and ethnic traditions.” — World Vision

I sought to explore the quotidian lives of the talibé children in Dakar and Saint Louis, Senegal. I closely examined the interactions and exchanges that take place in the lives of these individuals. I observed and photographically documented talibés’ experiences inside the daaras and on the city streets. Through the structure of this Koranic education, children must beg for hours on end and are susceptible to diseases and mistreatment. Each and every photo resulting from my project is a powerful testimony to the hardships and circumstances these children must endure.