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On 9 February at the WSF in Dakar, Secours Catholique and its partners held a workshop called “Migrants: give them a dignified welcome!” Bagayoko Seckna, coordinator of the Malian branch of the international NGO Environment and Development Action in the Third World (ENDA-TM), raised the issue of child migrants and their difficult living conditions.

Who are the children that migrate in Mali?

These children are primarily unaccompanied minors. Hundreds of them migrate on their own in Mali. According to our statistics, 150 child migrants were assisted by ENDA-TM in 2010. They come from Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea Conakry and Niger. All the children we help are separated from their families, and their ages range from 9 to 18.

What are the main reasons that drive these children to migrate?

There are many reasons. First and foremost, they migrate for economic reasons. These children feel responsible for their parents’ precarious financial situation. So they opt to migrate in search of money to send to their families back home in their villages. Moreover, many children migrate through the channel of Koranic training. They’re called Talibee children. They’re sent by their parents to Koranic training institute, often in another country. These children can be exploited, and many of them run away to escape from such conditions. They end up begging on the streets of a foreign country. This dangerous situation often leads us to help children to go back to their country and reunite with their parents. In other cases, they’re kidnapped by adults who take them to other countries and subject them to sexual slavery.

How does ENDA-TM help these children in Mali?

We help them first of all by identifying them. Then we accommodate them in reception centres where they can sleep, eat, take care of themselves and receive psycho-social support. Later, for those wishing to return to their country, we provide information about their parents. As ENDA-TM is an international association present in 15 countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), our colleagues in the children’s countries of origin seek out the parents to obtain information that we then send to the children. If they’re able to identify them, we go ahead with sending the children back to their countries. As we know that in most cases the children left home for economic reasons, we set up small reintegration projects for the children when they get back home. These projects regard getting children back to school, vocational training and reintegration in the job market.

Is there a protection network for child migrants in Mali?

ENDA-TM is not alone in taking care of these children. We work with Caritas Mali via Caritas Action enfants de tous, but also with the national child protection agency, the youth justice system and other NGOs. These associations help us with identifying, protecting and returning children to their countries of origin. The network has been set up in the 15 ECOWAS countries, so that as soon as children from one of the 15 countries have been identified, the system helps them return to their countries.

Does the Malian government help with taking care of the children?

Our government is relatively poor, but it does help us in an official capacity. For example, this occurs via provision of certain documents that are required to send children back to their countries of origin. Moreover, the Malian government has passed child protection laws. However, their application is often problematic.

What kind of welcome do these child migrants receive from the Malian people?

The people reject them. However, via awareness-raising initiatives we make them understand that these children could be their children, and that it’s in our interests to look after them as if they were our own children in order to help them return to their countries or, if they stay, to enjoy a minimum standard of protection.