by Giulia Inguaggiato, aid worker in Guinea-Bissau

Talibé, in Arabic, means “to seek” while the talbo, in the tradition of the Mandinga of Bidjine, is a person who moves from one place to another to learn the Koran. In West Africa, the word Talibé has unfortunately taken on a negative character as it describes a cross-border phenomenon of exploitation that affects various African countries, including Guinea-Bissau where Mani Tese has been operating for more than 40 years.

In this context, children recruited en masse from villages and cities and sent to Senegal, Gambia and Guinea-Conakry with the excuse of acquiring the Koranic precepts are defined as talibé. Faced with the precariousness of education that characterizes Guinea-Bissau, and in a context of severe poverty in rural communities, many families let their children leave with the hope of assuring them a better religious education abroad.

However, families are unaware of the true purpose of the trip and of the living conditions the minors will be in once they leave. Once in the country of destination the children, aged between 5 and 15 years, are in fact left to beg in the streets by supposed Koranic masters who demand a sum of money every day. They eat little and badly, very often only through the charity they receive in the streets, wear dirty and worn rags and sleep on the sidewalks. Furthermore, when they fail to deliver the required amount of money at the end of the long day of begging, they are beaten and abused.

In the context of child trafficking that affects the West African subregion, Guinea-Bissau represents a country of origin of flows, with a predominance of the phenomenon in the regions of Gabu and Bafata, characterized by the strong presence of Muslim communities. In light of the inhuman and degrading condition that characterizes the Talibé, many children try to escape from this modern form of slavery, seeking protection and safety.

This is the framework in which Mani Tese has decided to intervene, as a partner of VIS – International Volunteering for Development and COOPI – International Cooperation, in the actions in Guinea Bissau of the Multi-country project “Investing in the future: protection, training and employment for returning migrants, potential migrants and unaccompanied minor migrants in Senegal, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau”, co-financed by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, which includes, among its areas of intervention, the protection of minors and rights of children, continuing the process of strengthening the capacities of the local partner Amigos das Criancas – AMIC, which began in 2018.

AMIC is in fact part of the RAO, the West African Network, which deals with the protection of minors and young people in mobility who are in a condition of vulnerability, in the area of ​​ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and in Mauritania. AMIC coordinates the work of the Network in Guinea-Bissau, contributing to the protection of minors through their care, individual reintegration in the communities of origin and with prevention activities, which aim to sensitize families to a phenomenon that is often ignored and underrated.

Mani Tese, with the current intervention, supports the entire process of protecting minors, from the reception phase, through the improvement of the Gabu accommodation facility, up to the complete reintegration of the Talibé, ensuring psycho-social subsidy, according to an holistic approach that addresses simultaneously families and minors, and ensuring school reintegration. However, aware that this action cannot ignore the strengthening of the institutional level, the intervention also aims to consolidate the national coordination mechanism for the fight against trafficking, so that the legislative framework can align itself with national, supranational and international standards on the protection of minors, making the protection and reintegration process more durable over time.

Here are some photos from the Gabu reception center:

A group of minors welcomed in Gabu and Pirada

A child undergoing medical examination

Playful moment at the Gabu reception center

A parent signs the document of taking charge of a minor

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