Friday, June 13, 2008

Burkina has been in the news lately. Media reports about the global food crisis quite often mention it, along with other West African neighbours that have also experienced protests and rioting by hungry citizens.

So, when I search out Burkina news on the internet, I find more and more to read. One of the latest was a report on a new child-trafficking law that was passed last month here. Prison terms have been doubled for the culprits, but people involved in the fight against this crime are afraid that it won’t do much good.
Much of the activity takes place out where JP does his fieldwork, the Mouhoun river area:

“Trafficking origination hubs include Boucle du Mouhoun in the west of Burkina Faso, the Sahel in the north, from where many children are sent to Mali, often supposedly to attend Koranic schools

He has seen the police stop trucks loaded to the top with children on their way to work on plantations in Ivory Coast and even in cotton fields right here in Burkina.

The article mentions that some of the parents thought the children were being sent to Koranic school. But the truth is, Koranic school here in Ouaga often isn’t that much better than being sent away to do farm work. I’ve written about this before in my blog here. The children are far from home, sent out in dangerous traffic all day long to beg for money. It’s not safe or healthy and the boys learn little but a smattering of Arabic, hardly the recipe for a bright future.

Our driver Mahama lives next door to a marabout (Islamic religious teacher) that has a small Koranic “school”. Every day I’ve been asking Mahama the same question: “Are the boys back?”

At the beginning of June, he told me that there had been a huge fuss in his neighbor’s courtyard. It seems like the marabout’s donkey had wandered off and was nowhere to be found. The five boys searched all day and couldn’t find the animal anywhere. The marabout chased the boys out and said they could not come back to the house until the donkey was found. Not to eat, sleep, wash, nothing. They weren’t to come back without the donkey. The boys have been gone for 10 days now. No one has seen them. They all have families far from Ouaga, so it’s unlikely they found a way to return home. They are most likely sleeping outdoors and begging for food as best they can. Some of the boys are very young- around ten years old.

Who knows where they are now? If they are unsafe, ill or hungry?

One good aspect of the new law is that is specifically addresses the problem of children being forced to beg. Putting these young boys out on the streets and making them beg is now illegal child labour here in Burkina.
However, I have not noticed any actual decrease in “tomato-can boys” out in the streets. And the government here (like governments pretty much everywhere, don't you know) doesn’t always follow through on what they promise. Back in 2007, they earmarked funds for helping streetchildren in Burkina. It's been months now and to date, none of the promised money has been distributed. You can read about it here. The article also mentions AMPO, the orphanage where I first volunteered when I moved here to Ouaga and where Papiers du Sahel began.


Anonymous said...

Burkina is front page news today in NYC's legal newspaper, too--sort of. On the front page is a blurb about the court affirming the conviction of a NYPD police officer who killed a Burkinabe man. The Burkinabe man worked as an African art restorer. The cop was investigating DVD piracy, which is indeed a scourge of our times but isn't usually addressed with bullets. The cop saw the unarmed man (as art restorers typically are, I think) in the warehouse where the man works, shot the Burkinabe man 4 times and killed him, and was convicted of "criminally negligent manslaughter." The high court affirmed the conviction, saying there was "no justification" for the cop shooting this Burkinabe man. The sentence? Probation and community service. -- MLW

Nasir said...

wonderful piece. I am particularly touched by references to the abuses Koranic school pupils are exposed to, and the prospect of a legislation curbing the abuses. Koranic schools and some of their practices are so steeped in tradition and mutilated religious teachings that it is unlikely legislation alone will save the children enrolled from dangers they face. That is why the pretext of koranic learning is an ingenous way of traficking children and getting away with it. In traditional muslim communities, the sufferings these children go through are hardly seen as abusive; they are considered as necessary sacrifices needed to learn the Koran. Unfortunate as this thinking is, it is at the heart of abuses that koranic school pupils have to go through.

Benoit Lescarbeau said...

I have a friend who works closely with an organisation that tries to shelter kids found in trucks bound for Mali while their families are contacted. Sadly, whenever a truck is caught, the same kids are usually sent again after a month. And while some are sent to "schools" some are indeed sold as laborers for neighboring countries.

Cyndy said...

While there I saw 2 of these children. They were tiny. 6-8 at the most. They sat on the curb of the meridian of one of the busiest roads in Ouagadougou and I really did fear for the safety of their feet at the very least. But traffic safety is a whole nother issue.
What struck me was how tiny and how mentally unprepared they were for the task they were given. Of course something very bad will eventually happen. That is exactly how our Rakieta was burned. She was tiny and sent off to do tasks she was just not mature enough to do. Of course the family still claims witches are to blame.