26 June 2012 was an unusual day at Fort Bée youth prison in Dakar, Senegal. It was a day of remembrance for the Day of the African Child and was filled with drama, wrestling, discussions about human rights and speeches from nearly 100 teenage boys living within the prison.
The Day of the African Child is internationally recognized and celebrated each year to ‘protect, respect, promote and achieve’ the rights of children, wherever they may be.
The day began with a prayer and the national anthem sung in Wolof by the detainees, with prison authorities, government officials, and Tostan representatives then giving speeches about the importance of the day and how they planned to work with the prison to support and protect the rights of the young men.
Assane Traouré, the Director of the Senegal’s prison service, reminded the audience of the solemn origins of the event – a day in 1976 when 23 children in Soweto, South Africa were killed marching for access to education taught in their own languages. Mr. Traouré urged authorities present to protect the boys of the prison and emphasized the importance of family mediation in the social reintegration of detainees.
“Society is nothing without family, and family is nothing without children,” said Mr. Traouré, illustrating the important role that family plays in Senegalese society.
Family mediations have been a major aspect of Tostan’s Prison Project since its implementation in 1999. Skill training is another key element, and Tostan regularly conducts workshops on gardening, poultry farming, and fabric dyeing in the five prisons where it implements the modified Community Empowerment Program (CEP).
Cheikh Fall, Communications Director at the Societé des eaux (SDE), Senegal’s national water distributor, was another key speaker. He said that he was so impressed by the boys’ behavior and the work of the prison that he committed to partner with Tostan and the prison service to provide plumbing training to detainees.
The SDE already partners with the prison to provide adequate water supply because of a pressure problem caused by the location’s high altitude. “Just because these young men are in prison today does not mean that they do not have a role to play in society tomorrow,” stated Mr. Fall, “That is why it is important to train detainees today so that they are prepared for reintegration tomorrow.”
A group of young men spoke to the audience in a presentation addressing three key stakeholders: the government, parents, and NGOs. They urged the government to give more importance to education and training of detainees in prison; they encouraged parents to come visit their children and not discriminate against them; and they encouraged NGOs to partner and unite their services to better work towards successful reintegration of detainees. Concluding the presentation, each boy gave an example of a detainee who successfully reintegrated back into society because these stakeholders met these demands. One young man explained that because he learned woodworking in prison, he was able to become a carpenter’s apprentice after his release.
Following a shared meal of ceebuyapp [rice and meat], the attendees reconvened for an afternoon of skits and songs performed by the detainees about human rights, the obstacles faced by young men in prison, and the elements necessary for successful reintegration into society. The day culminated in an entertaining wrestling match. Wrestling is Senegal’s national sport, and the audience fell into hysterics as the boys impersonated their favorite lutteurs [wrestlers].
While the young men at Fort Bée are deprived of many liberties outside of prison, such as family and formal education, a network of prison employees, Tostan facilitators and supervisors, social workers, and representatives of other organizations support them inside prison walls.
Tostan celebrates the Day of the African Child at one of Senegal’s youth prisons every year.
Click here to view more photos of the event. For privacy purposes and in accordance with Senegalese law, Tostan does not photograph or film detainees.