A Tale of Two NGO Discourses: NGO Stories of Suffering Qur’anic School Children in Senegal
Transnational actors have identified thousands of Qur’anic students throughout Senegal, West Africa, called taalibes, as a particularly “vulnerable” population of children, and have taken up the challenge to promote their well-being and human rights. These adult actors surrounding the taalibes tell diverging stories of the children’s suffering related to their street begging. Some frame the begging as child trafficking, where children are brought from rural to urban centers by their alleged religious instructors in order to profit from their forced begging and labor. Others frame taalibe begging as a religious tradition and a spiritually conditioning act, but one that has dangerously increased in scale due to rural poverty leading to mass urban migration. These two discourses present conflicting explanations of the problems as well as their potential solutions, yet they are often used interchangeably by actors as they rally support for their activities among local and international observers. To gain financial and political support for their operations, NGOs commodify taalibe suffering by articulating it within one of these two conflicting discourses, which I claim leads to popular and professional division on the issue and prolongs government inaction to assure basic rights for the taalibes on a national scale.
KeywordsNGOs Children’s rights Humanitarianism Childhoods Senegal Islamic education
I received generous funding for this research from the Institute for International Education with a Fulbright U.S. student fellowship and from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council with a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. I offer many thanks to my dissertation supervisor at McGill University, Sandra Hyde, and committee members Ronald Niezen, Setrag Manoukian, and Lisa Stevenson. I also thank the personnel at ENDA-TM in Senegal and Mali, and the many people in Senegal and Mali who offered their time and insights to make this work possible.
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