Shelters for Morocco’s street children are a drop in an ocean

Shelters for Morocco’s street children are a drop in an ocean


Morocco’s street children live a difficult life, often filled with narcotics and crime. Efforts to reintegrate them into families and schools are small and somewhat successful but experts say the problem is large and its root lies in poverty and difficult social circumstances.

By Imane Belhaj for Magharebia from Casablanca -13/03/08

[Imane Belhaj] Public places serve as beds for Morocco’s street children, who leave home due to dire poverty. Morocco’s government and civil society have begun efforts to reintegrate the children into families and schools.

Othmane left his home and school at the age of 14 to live on the street. He no longer wanted to see his mother fight the daily battle to get bread for his five little siblings, struggle to lease a shantytown house and pay for his school expenses. "The street is not more merciful," Othmane says "This is a lie; but at least she will not have to think about my daily living. In the meantime, I may be able to help her." Othmane carries bags of vegetables and other purchases for customers at a nearby market. In this way, he earns a few dirhams a day, enough to bring a little money back home when he visits once a week and still be able to buy the cheap narcotics which help him endure his suffering.

Othmane is part of the growing number of street children in Morocco. These are the homeless and marginalized youths without identity or family. The sidewalks are their shelters and the bakeries’ doorsteps are their pillows.

In Casablanca, these children’s main "residences" are alleys in the old city, the port, the train station and the fruits and vegetables wholesale market. The port provides them with an opportunity to emigrate illegally. The wholesale market gives them the chance to work as porters and make money to buy drugs. At the train station, they can earn a bit from helping passengers or by begging for handouts from tourists.

According to the most recent statistics from Morocco’s Secretariat of State for Family, Solidarity and Social Action, 7,000 street children live in Casablanca wilaya alone. 8,800 more live in other major cities such as Marrakech, Fez, and Meknes.

[Imane Belhaj] Estimates are unreliable because homeless children move between neighborhoods and cities in search of temporary refuge.

The figures are dated and unreliable, however, because homeless children do not stay in one place. They move between neighborhoods and cities in search of another temporary refuge. They are often fleeing dire poverty where six or 10 family members are crammed into a single room.

Moroccan civil society has adopted a strategy of building centres to shelter some of these street children and attempt to reintegrate them into schools and families, but the challenge is enormous. The number of children usually exceeds the centres’ financial capabilities and many are turned away.

"We try to provide some assistance to these children. We don’t claim that we will solve the problem once and for all," says Al Tahir Skali of the Casbah Association for Children in Difficult Situations.

His group is now building a homeless shelter for children in Mohammedia, as part of the National Initiative for Human Development. The shelter will provide accommodation, schooling, food and, eventually, socio-professional integration. But while there are thousands of these children in the city of Mohammedia alone, the centre will host no more than 100 of them. Even if the experiment succeeds, it will be just a tiny drop in the sea.

Skali acknowledges the difficulty of intervening in the fight against homelessness. "Drug addiction make a lot of people not respond to our initiatives," he says. "They usually flee to embrace the street again. This makes us feel that we have failed, except in very rare cases. However, we haven’t lost hope, and we have adopted a policy of prevention. Today, we look for potential street children from very poor families. We call on these families to care about their children, shelter them in that centre and help them go back to school or continue their vocational training."

Hamid Tachfin, a social worker at the Bayti association, agrees that poverty has contributed to the epidemic of street children. Difficult social circumstances can push children onto the street and often, into the world of drugs and crime.

[Imane Belhaj] Poverty, marital disputes and divorce are some of the root causes that drive children into the streets.

"We have reached a conclusion that great sufferings are behind many of the cases," Tachfin says. "Family poverty, school failure, fear of family, parental divorce [and] marital disputes are the main causes that make them go out to the street and embrace a fate unknown."

Convincing street children to put their trust in the centres and associations designed to assist them is still difficult. The homeless youths have lost all confidence in society’s ability to help them. They have lost confidence even in themselves. They often have no other desire than to run freely and live without adult control.

One success story, however, may be that of 12-year-old Noureddine. Other street children beat him harshly and regularly for the sake of amusement, but Bayti rescued him from the street.

"I have found a new haven and new friends here," he says. "The most important thing is that I returned to school, and I will never quit it, provided that Bayti support me all the way up to the end. This is an opportunity not available to everyone," the boy added.

Efforts by Morocco’s few centres and associations dedicated to helping street children seem to be working, Bayti president Najat M’jid says. "When we look at the number of children whom we are able to reintegrate annually, whether with families or schools, we find out that we are progressing year after year."

M’jit adds, however, that in terms of addressing this phenomenon as a whole, much remains to be done. "We haven’t yet drawn up a specific plan to address the real problems that breed street children: poverty, rural immigration, schooling and its quality, the rising rate of unemployment and youth’s loss of hope in building their future in their country," she says.


Nobody’s constituency

Nobody’s constituency

By Ahmed El Amraoui in Mdiq, northern Morocco


The street children of Morocco are the human face of a long catalogue of socio-economic ills

Before Friday’s parliamentary elections, Morocco’s political parties made many a promise.

Their promises ranged from combating unemployment to providing health care, improving the education system to developing rural areas, and from attracting investment to creating jobs.

But none cared to present a plan to take homeless children off the streets. That no one noticed is indicative of Moroccan society feigning ignorance of a growing problem.

Street children are the human face of Morocco’s catalogue of socio-economic ills — poverty, rupture of the family unit, divorce, remarriage and irresponsible parenting.

Precarious existence

If questioned, the children invariably say they prefer life on the streets to the one they left behind.

What they do not say is that the constant search for a safe place and the bonding that develops from such a precarious existence become, over time, a source of peer pressure and exploitation.

Many of them end up suffering permanent physical and psychological harm.

For Abdel Fatah, at left, home meant neglect
and mistreatment; for Omar it meant poverty

Moroccan society may have become too accustomed to the sight of street children to consider their rehabilitation a pressing electoral issue.

But as individuals, their stories are as worthy of attention as they are poignant.

Abdel Fatah, 16, and Omar, 14, live on the streets of Mdiq.

For Abdel Fatah, what drove him to leave home were neglect and mistreatment; for Omar, it was poverty.

At first, Abdel Fatah was reluctant to revisit his unhappy childhood or unlock the mysteries of street life, but the promise of a hot meal and money made him open up.

"I went to school for only one year. I quit because I did not like it, neither did my mother. My father abandoned us when I was a child. My mother was cruel and used to blame me and my other two brothers for her misfortune. I left home and started to work in construction when I was 11 years old. But the man I used to work for was very abusive," Abdel Fatah said.

"After working for a few months, I found myself on the street with nothing to eat, no clothes and nowhere to sleep. But I found other children out there who later became my friends. Now I am happy and free."


Abdel Fatah started to smoke at the age of 11, and a year later his new friends pushed him to sniff glue. He sleeps in different places every night, mostly in mosques, public gardens and in bus stations.

His mother never bothered to inquire about him, he said. 

After listening to Abdel Fatah’s story, Omar decided to talk as well.

Plight of the street girl child

Boys may be more visible as street children, but the lot of girls from poor families is no better. While boys growing up on streets are likely to become criminals and gangsters, girls are at risk of ending up as prostitutes.

Tens of thousands of them work as housemaids, a job in which, according to a 2006 Human Rights Watch report, they face physical and psychological abuse in addition to economic exploitation.

Non-governmental organisations estimate that about 90 per cent of single mothers in Morocco were housemaids in their childhood.

"I am more educated than Abdel Fatah. I spent two years in school.

"As we are poor and I am the eldest of four brothers and sisters, my parents sent me to work with my uncle in a small coffee shop, where most of the clients were cannabis smokers," he said.

"I worked for one year and I became who I am now at the age of 12. Now I spend the whole day on the street, but I do go home at night.

"I earn some money by begging that enables me to buy food. My parents are pleased because I never bother them to feed me."

Like Abdel Fatah, Oma
r smokes cigarettes and sniffs glue.

Both ended their conversation with your correspondent with a pledge to give up their bad habits.

Sadly, the first thing they did as they walked away was to begin sniffing glue from polythene bags in their hands.

Distrust in adults

Abdel Fatah and Omar appeared have no faith in adults, who in their opinion regard street children like them as thieves and criminals – in short, a nuisance instead of a blot on society’s conscience.

Laarbi, who said his age was 14, agreed to talk to this correspondent but refused to have his photograph taken.

Street children are lured by food and cash to
take part in election campaign rallies

He said he came to Mdiq from the south of the country.Laarbi’s dream is to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Spain.

He works as a shoeshine boy in the hope of saving up the $2500 needed to book a place in a human-smuggling boat.

Laarbi said he has no bad habits and shares a room with four other children.

He pays up to $50 per month to a gangster for protection and shelter.

What Abdel Fatah, Omar and Laarbi have in common is that they are all busy these days. They are working for the campaigns of different election candidates in return of food or cash.

They know they are being exploited but they do not care; all that matters to them is survival.

Remedial programmes fall short

Efforts to give Morocco’s street children the chance of a decent life are woefully insufficient given the magnitude of the phenomenon.

The few programmes designed to deal with the root causes are run by voluntary and non-governmental organisations, notably Bayti (My Home) in Casablanca and Darna (Our Home) in Tangier. With their focus on remedial activities, they try to reunite at-risk children with their families.

The Moroccan government has initiated a number of projects to address the issue, but its efforts are hampered by a lack of resources in terms of money and trained staff.

The law stipulates two- to six-month prison sentences for beggars over the age of 18. Even so, the kingdom is believed to have up to 500,000 "professional beggars" who use children and disabled people as tools of their trade.


Source: Al Jazeera

Street Children in Casablanca, Morocco – Ali Zaoua

Street Children in Casablanca, Morocco – Ali Zaoua
In this opening scene from the film, “Ali Zaoua,” we meet the the four Moroccan street children who are the main characters in this film: Ali Zaoua, Kwita, Boubker and Omar. In a conflict with gang leader, Dib, Ali is killed and his three friends are left with the problem of how to bury him.

Real Casablanca street children (“chemkaras”) play the lead roles and these kids perform magnificently. As they try to deal with the death of their leader and friend and attempt to find a way to bury him fittingly, their life in the streets and their characters are revealed with sensitivity, depth and gritty realism. These kids have lived hard lives and it shows on their faces and in their eyes and is reflected in their sincere and memorable performances.

The four children who star in this film are: Mounim Kbab, Mustapha Hansali, Hicham Moussone and Adbalhak Zhayra.

Brilliantly directed by Nabil Ayouch, this film surely ranks with “Pixote” and “Salaam Bombay” in its realistic portrayal of street children and deserves to be more widely known.

Moroccan civil society and government try to help children at risk

Moroccan civil society and government try to help children at risk


Civil society and government agencies in Morocco are trying to take children off the streets, but resources are limited.

Text and photos by Sarah Touahri for Magharebia in Rabat – 02/02/07

Homeless children comb the main thoroughfares of Rabat and even sleep on the ground.

In the backstreets of Rabat, children comb the streets and turn up at mosques and bakeries looking for charitable souls. Mohcine Zalafe, 10, is one of them. Over the past year he has become used to approaching passers-by next to the bus station in Rabat, looking sickly and pale-faced, and dressed in filthy clothes. "I can collect between 80 and 120 Dirhams a day," he says proudly.

"The older you get, the less people want to give you money," says his friend, 16-year-old Samir Bouchtaoui.

The two boys are hardly ever separated. Mohcine’s mission is to collect as much money as possible and Samir undertakes to "protect" him from the other street children.

Up to now, there have been no precise statistics regarding the phenomenon of street children. In Casablanca, there are thought to be between 5,000 and 7,000 street children. In Morocco, there are around 25,000 according to the associations.

"It’s difficult to get a clear picture of this phenomenon. Most of the children spend their time moving from place to place and from town to town, fleeing from the police, attackers and the eyes of society," says Omar Saadoun, street educator for 12 years with the Bayti association.

Sociologist Ahmed Chaabouni explains that the rupture of the family unit is at the heart of the street children phenomenon: the death of the father or mother, divorce, remarriage, poverty, irresponsible parenting. "There are many children who say they have run away because of the brutality of family members. The streets present an irresistible temptation for these young fugitives."

According to Claude Groshamp, general superintendent of the Moroccan Association for the Protection of Children in Danger (ADIM), civil society’s efforts remain limited in this field, despite major action taken by various associations. Curing addictions, reintegrating the children and returning them to education are the principal areas of action, despite the meagre funds available.

Groshamp says he tries to make contact with the children, to understand them and to give them guidance. "I give them food. I talk to them like an older brother, and I try not to make them feel they’re being blamed."

Many other associations try to brighten up the daily existence of these needy children.

In El Youssoufia, a working-class district of Rabat, the Shemsy association takes in several of these children in need; the centre has been open for decades. "To offer a calm place for child victims of delinquency to stay is one of the association’s priorities," explains Chairman Thourya Bouabid.

At the association’s headquarters, educators try to get the children reintegrated into school to rescue them from the grasp of vice. Those who are beyond school-leaving age receive professional training.

"An educator in an open setting is permanently out on the streets listening to children and talking them round. He is there not to judge them but to understand them. The parents are sometimes an obstacle to children being integrated, wanting their offspring to continue begging at any cost. The educators’ work is very difficult. On the ground, they must give their all to convince the children and those close to them of the benefits of children reintegrating," Bouabid says.

In the centre’s Arabic class, children listen to teacher, Mohamed Kanbaou. But some of them are distracted, and do not seem to pay much attention. Kanbaou admits that he encounters a lot of difficulties with these children, who require a different approach from the other pupils.

"The economic and social situations of these children cause us enormous difficulties. They lack concentration. Some even stop coming here. Before teaching them, we prepare them so that they can regain their self-confidence. But we must always keep a close eye on them," Kanbaou explains.

Krimou proved to be gifted in improvisational performances

In the photo laboratory, children are learning to develop and print photographs which they took themselves with the help of their teacher. For many, it’s their favourite activity. However, the place where all the children like to "take refuge" is undoubtedly the drama studio. That is where they learn to express themselves freely, to reveal their pain, suffering and also their hopes, all without fear.

From watching "halquas" (street performances), Krimou, one of the students, has proved to be gifted in improvising these shows. Before coming to the association, he had a stutter. But he soon managed to overcome this obstacle and now talks normally.

Bouabid explains that despite the civil society’s efforts, the financial resources are proving to be limited.

The state is trying to combat the phenomenon of street children. The first mobile unit in the emergency social services, essentially targeting street children, was formed last September in Casablanca, with the intention of being rolled out to all cities in Morocco. Five child protection units will be set up in Casablanca, Marrakech, Tangiers, Fez and Laâyoune, thanks to a special judicial framework.

According to the state secretariat with responsibility for families, children and the handicapped, the "idmaj" programme, which is part of the national childhood plan of action (2006-2015), aims at reintegrating street children, concentrating its work in the first stage on large- and medium-sized towns.

In Casablanca, the paramedic service patrols go out every other day. From 9pm to 5am, a mobile team combs the areas of Casa-port, the fishing port, Place Verdun, the Ancient Medina, Mers Sultan, Derb Omar and the Korea district, looking for children. First aid consists of Betadine antiseptic and sticking plasters for those who have injuries, in addition to psychiatric help. "As for the most serious cases, such as fractures, bronchitis attacks or major cuts, these are taken to hospital," explains Afifa Belghiti, director of the paramedic service.

With both the state and civil society involved in the effort to offer Morocco’s street children a better reality, the onus is on families to provide these children protection and a sense of belonging. According to the Bayti NGO, which has been trying to reintegrate street children into their families and schools, the success of these efforts is contingent not only on financial support, but on a true partnership between the family, the school, the state, the NGO and the private sector.

Child Labour: Work or the street … children between the devil and the deep blue sea

 Child Labour
Work or the street … children between the devil and the deep blue sea

By Kaoutar Tbatou | Morocco TIMES     6/13/2006 | 3:51 pm
There are in Morocco one million and a half to two million children either deprived of education, obliged to work or live in the streets. Alarming figures? Reality is even more alarming when these children’s social situations, work conditions, and the effect of exploitation on them are considered.

  Precarious socio-economic conditions still push thousands of parents to integrate their children in work-place from a very early age, instead of sending them to school. Ph. Archives.

Despite the efforts exerted to fight child labour in Morocco, precarious socio-economic conditions still push thousands of parents to integrate their children in work-place from a very early age, instead of sending them to school.

Faced with poverty, displacement due to rural exodus, and family instability, children find themselves unprotected and, in many cases, have either to work or go on the street.

Is work really the lesser harm?

Having never benefited from training, and being deprived of protection, working children are obliged to accept any kind of job, with very miserable wages.

Employers in some sectors prefer children because they constitute a mass of cheep and controllable labour. Up to 10,000 children aged 8-14 work in carpet weaving. As a pretext, their employers claim that they help them learn a skill that would enable them to earn their living in the future.

Worse, some children are exploited in rubbish dumps by local and international garbage-sorting companies, breaching all international human rights laws. For each kilogram they sort, kids are paid a miserable 20 centimes (MAD 1 equals 100 centimes). The selected items are then sold at MAD 2 a kilo to recycling companies.

Children do not even benefit from their own salaries, as the money always goes to parents. But financial exploitation is only one facet of their suffering.

The tasks children are given often exceed their physical capacity. Little girls, who most of the time work as housemaids, have very long working days. A study said that over 72 % of under-age housemaids wake up before 7 a.m, and that 65% do not get to sleep before 11 p.m.

These girls are also exposed to violence and sexual exploitations, and their consequences, including social exclusion, psychological traumas, and undesired maternity.

Overexploited boys on the other hand, are often faced with physically harsh duties. Boys are very often given hazardous and too heavy tasks which exceed by far their physical ability.

Working children are also deprived of social security. In the event of an accident, the child finds himself in the street, jobless, and without medical care.

Taking action

Many measures have been taken in Morocco to deal with this appalling phenomenon. A series of awareness campaigns was organised, in addition to many national programmes, including “Inqad”, which aims to combat under-age housemaids’ employment, and “Adros”, a literacy programme for working children.

The government, which has declared June 12 as a national day for action against child labour, is currently cooperating with a number of NGOs to prepare a bill which will lift the minimum age of child labour from 15 to 18.

But more efforts are still needed to guarantee the implementation of such laws, avoid undeclared child labour cases, and deal with socio-economic problems, which are the root of this phenomenon.

Maybe then, Morocco, along with other countries, will reach the optimistic target expressed last month by the International Labour Organisation, which had noted with satisfaction the decline of child labour around the world, and stated that child labour could be eliminated in 10 years if the current decline continued.

Government to prepare action plan in favour of street children

Government to prepare action plan in favour of street children
Morocco TIMES
12/28/2005 | 2:13 pm
The government’s strategy for fighting the phenomenon of street children is based on judicial, social and educational axes, underlined Yasmina Baddou, Secretary of State to the Minister of Social Development, Family, and solidarity.
Baddou: this category of the Moroccan society is the most susceptible to various forms of deprivation, exploitation and delinquency. Ph: Archives.

The first axis relates to a national plan of action for street children, the elaboration of which had been the subject of a broad debate among the different actors in this humanitarian field, Baddou said, responding to an oral question in the House of Advisors.

She pointed out that the plan gives enormous importance to street children, as this category of the Moroccan society is the most susceptible to various forms of deprivation, exploitation and delinquency.

The second axis, she said, pertains to the national programme “Idmaj” (integration), launched in partnership with the competent sectors, local collectivities, and associations working in this field.

The aim of this programme is to ensure the reintegration of these children in society, adopting an integrative approach to mobilise all the actors active in this domain, the secretary of state underlined.

This axis also intends to limit the seriousness of the street children phenomenon, particularly in big cities, and integrate them in families. It also aims to establish partnerships with the national association working in humanitarian field, by reinforcing their capacities in terms of supervision and management.

Earlier, the secretariat of State had signed some 370 agreements with many associations active in the social field. The agreements concern social projects, worth MAD 27 million.

Baddou said that in the first phase, the programme will target Casablanca, Rabat, Salé, Mohammedia, Tanger, Tétouan and Marrakech.

She also stressed that the third axis revolves around a pilot project, the first of its kind, to create a mobile service for urgent social requirements.

The secretary of state concluded that the project, which will be operational in May 2006, will provide primary requirements and first aid to people in difficult situation, targeting mainly street children.

Street Children: No space or time for childhood

Street Children
No space or time for childhood

By Karima Rhanem     5/20/2005 | 4:23 pm GMT
Thousands of children are left on the streets to deal with their sorrows and harsh living conditions. Shattered dreams, abuse of all kinds and lack of affection are the only reality they know. The Morocco Times highlights the important factors that lead these children to be on the street.

On the busy streets of Casablanca, we met 15 year-old Abdellah, a street child with no family, hanging around Boulevard Mohammed V, begging. He looked desperate and hungry. “Give me a dirham, I am very hungry, I haven’t eaten since yesterday”. This is nothing unusual; there are thousands of street children living on the streets of Casablanca alone. You come across them everyday but your immediate reaction is to look away. You cannot explain your attitude; somehow, they make you feel uncomfortable, and guilty. You hurry away to avoid them. You don’t stop to ask yourself where they sleep, how they manage to keep themselves warm, or when they had their last meal.

  Street children playing next to the trash can.

Childhood should be the best period of one’s life. However, it’s not always the case for some kids. Thousands of children are left on the streets to deal with their sorrows and harsh living conditions. Shattered dreams, abuse of all kinds and lack of affection are the only reality they know. These children are often from divorced parents. They have suffered from extreme poverty and have experienced domestic violence and abuse. They feel abandoned and have lost all trust in adults. Moreover, they are seen merely as a nuisance or a menace, probably thieves and criminals. The general public’s treatment of them is to be rude and indifferent; their mistrust deepens.

According to “Bayti” (“My Home”), a Moroccan NGO specialized in helping children in difficult situations, the age of these street children ranges from 7 to 18.

There are multiple, interrelated factors that lead to children being on the streets. Some are direct such as domestic violence and abuse. However, most of the others are indirect and these include poverty and urbanization.For centuries, cities everywhere have held a magnetic attraction for rural inhabitants (The streets are paved with gold). Extreme poverty in rural areas makes this attraction irresistible, especially to children who see no hope and no future. Sadly, for the vast majority, the dream turns out to be a mirage. The harsh reality is that if you are poor and jobless in the city, you are nothing. The combination of being young, poor and unemployed leads to another cycle of violence and abuse to which can be added the further evil of exploitation. It is little wonder that children in such circumstances choose the street life as a refuge. Here they have one thing: a freedom of sorts.    

  A homeless child sleeping in the street.


At the end of the day, some, like Abdellah, do go home, but others sleep on the streets or at railway stations. At night, around the port of Casablanca, groups of young boys sleep on cartons or in doorways.

Rachid, a 13 year old boy joined Abdellah in conversation: “I take drugs to forget about my situation and to prevent myself from committing a crime. I’ve been caught by the police many times for hanging around here. My mom is a dirty prostitute. So, I escaped from home not to see men coming and going out of the house”.

For most of these children, the future is dark and unpromising. All that matters to them is day-to-day survival, something to eat, something to wear, and somewhere to sleep. There is no space or time for childhood. Every one of them has a different story. We had to give them money before they would even start listening to us. It was difficult to gain their trust; they lie automatically, and told us 4 or 5 stories before beginning to tell the truth.

Each one of these children imagines how normal childhood could be. Their dreams are shattered by the harsh reality of their lives. We heard dozens of stories from other children. That reminded us of Nabil Ayouch’s movie “Ali Zaoua”. The film tells the story of four street boys who have decided to go it alone without their families. This moving film graphically portrays the terrible and harsh reality of abandoned children and makes us painfully aware that there are thousands of Ali Zaouas in our country.

There are various programs designed to address the street children phenomenon in Morocco. Most of these programs have been set up and are run by voluntary and non-governmental organizations such as “Darna” in Tangier and “Bayti” in Casablanca (both express the notion of “My Home”, a shelter for abandoned children). Most of these organizations focus on remedial activities, such as the provision of crisis centres, education, job training, health care, and counselling. However, the ultimate goal is to reintegrate the children with their families wherever possible. Bayti, for example, targets children in difficult circumstances: street children, working children, abandoned children, juvenile delinquent and sexually exploited children. A multidisciplinary team including educators, social workers, doctors, psychologists, teachers, artists, and students collaborates with the organization.

• Formed specialist groups in education to work with these children

• Encouraged social and health protection; fought against illiteracy

• Encouraged families, particularly those who live in rural areas, to send their children to school, and they welcomed those who have failed in their studies

• Provided care centres for street children in different parts of Morocco

• Encouraged associations working in the field to increase their efforts to assist children in difficult situations.

However, in spite of all the efforts and programs aimed at addressing the phenomenon of street children, their needs are not fully met and their numbers are steadily increasing. The problems encountered with these programs in Morocco do not stem from a lack of initiative, but rather a lack of sufficient resources, including funding and trained staff. There is also a lack of good planning, a lack of organization and no clear government policies. Experts in the field said that no program can succeed unless it is based on a scientific assessment of the situation of the children, and unless consideration is given to their basic needs. Therefore, the government should:

NGO’s, on the other hand, should also increase awareness through publicity campaigns. People need to be made aware of the severe consequences of the phenomenon of street children in our society, and all Moroccan families should be made conscious of the danger of negle
cting or abandoning their children.

Omar Saadou of “Bayti”: “A well planned strategy is needed to reintegrate street children in Morocco”

 Omar Saadou of “Bayti”:
“A well planned strategy is needed to reintegrate street children in Morocco”

By Karima Rhanem     5/20/2005 | 5:29 pm GMT
The phenomenon of street children in Morocco is becoming critical. NGOs are trying hard to find solutions to the problem. Omar Saadou of the “Bayti” Association, an NGO with a long experience in the field, describes the circumstances that lead these children to be on the street.

  Omar Saadou of the “Bayti” Association

As the person responsible for the street programme in Bayti, could you describe to us the situation of street children in Morocco?

The phenomenon of street children has become more common in Morocco. There are thousands if not millions of street children around the country. Personally, I don’t like the idea of examining the phenomenon in terms of quantity. By doing that, we are only trying to reduce the number of these street children. What we should do instead, is to admit that this phenomenon exists in our society, at the same time trying to find possible ways to deal with it. I can give you an imaginary number of these children, but we shouldn’t look at the problem in terms of numbers.

Who are the street children?

The general definition of street children is: “Children under the age of 18 years who spend most of their time on the streets. Street children is a term often used to describe both “market children” (children who work in the streets and markets of cities, selling or begging, and live with their families), and “homeless children” (children who live and sleep in the streets, lacking any contact with their families.

What are the main reasons why these children are on the streets?

While some children are lured by the promise of excitement and freedom, the majority are pushed onto the street by desperation and a realization that they have nowhere to go. Most children go onto the street to look for a better way of life, to earn more money and to support their families. Some of them have dropped out of school, while others didn’t even have the chance to go to school. Others go onto the street because they have no shelter, or to escape from family difficulties.

The major problems that lead them onto the street are the following:
* Poor, uneducated, and large families
* Parents’ lack of knowledge and skills
* Lack of responsibility on the part of the parents and the family
* Physical abuse
* Rebellious behaviour and attitude of the children
* Unfair distribution of resources and opportunities in the community, such as lack of adequate employment opportunities, problems in working conditions
* Inadequate and poor housing facilities (many of them live in shantytowns)
* Political and economic conditions
* Poor law enforcement
* Inflexible educational system

These causes are interrelated, and it is very difficult to talk about one and ignore the others. I will say again that the main problem is that we don’t admit the existence of this phenomenon in Morocco. We should make a greater effort to face it, and work on a strategy to achieve the goals mentioned before and particularly to reintegrate these children into society.

How do these children earn their money for their daily survival and where do they gather?

They can earn money through begging, car washing, shoe shining, vending, drug trafficking, or sex work. Normally, these children choose their own places. They usually hang around next to railway stations and ports, and in urban woods. However, you can find them everywhere.

It is clear that these children have a heavy burden. What are the major threats they face?

These children lack basic resources to sustain a healthy living. They usually have no money to buy decent clothes or food. They rarely have access to the facilities they need for their daily hygiene and sanitation, such as toilets and a clean, safe water supply. They also lack adequate nutrition. Beside this, the street, as you know, is an unprotected environment, and street children are frequently exploited. They may face physical injury or death from violence.

This violence might come from gangs, drug dealers, commercial sex workers, or even from the police. What is very dangerous and more serious is that they are vulnerable to sexual abuse. Common sexual and reproductive health problems include sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.

That is why we are working with AIDS control associations to make these children aware of such diseases.

As far as HIV/AIDS is concerned, do these children understand its real meaning?

These children are not usually aware of the real meaning of AIDS. Some think it is a city; others think it is an object. Some have heard about it, but they don’t care, because their top priorities are food, clothes, and shelter. We have worked closely with the Association Marocaine des Jeunes Contre le Sida (AMJCS) in one of their programmes designed for street children.

We have jointly looked for new communication methods to get our messages over to this target group. We use educational activities to help them understand the real danger that surrounds them, and make then aware of all kinds of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD). However, to do that, we have first to gain their trust and confidence. Only then can we communicate with them.

What are the implications of the street life on their psychological and mental health?

Street life may have a lasting impact on their well-being. They lack parental affection. They are always under stress, leading a transitory lifestyle. Street children move frequently from place to place. Sometimes, they do it by choice. However, they are more often forced to move to hide from the police, gangs, or drug dealers.

This type of lifestyle leads to problems of social isolation and loneliness, and difficulties in developing emotional attachments. As I mentioned earlier, the stress they face makes them vulnerable to emotional problems, psychiatric disorder, and learning difficulties. Another big problem they face is the use of drugs, often to escape reality.

This may lead them to overdose, or increase their chance of accidents, violence, and unprotected sex and so on. Moreover, the excessive use of drugs may lead to brain damage over time.

How do you integrate these children, and is there a real reintegration?

We have to speak clearly here, and admit that it is very difficult to talk about the reintegration of these children. The most crucial question we should ask is where and how? Are we going to make them go back to the same circumstances, and eventually to the same family? Maybe it is better to reintegrate them with themselves and work to enhance their self-confidence and self-esteem, and try to change their perception of life and view of the world. That is why I mentioned that we need a well planned strategy in order to talk about reintegration.

What is the future of this phenomenon in Morocco?

To be honest, with such little effective coordination between those who are responsible in both government and non-government organizations, things will not change
for the better. Because of the complexity of the phenomenon, prospects for improvement are doubtful and not encouraging.

Child glue sniffing rises in Morocco

Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 December, 2004, 02:40 GMT
Child glue sniffing rises in Morocco
By Pascale Harter
BBC News, Rabat
Butane lighter refills Butane lighter fuel kills more than half of young solvent abusers
A non-governmental organisation in Morocco says substance abuse among children has reached alarming levels.


The Baiti association says 98% of children living on the streets in Morocco are now addicted to sniffing glue and the number is growing.

They shine shoes, beg from passers-by or even sell their bodies in return for the $3 they need to buy a tube of glue.

According to a government survey, more than 5,000 children are living on the streets of Casablanca alone.

Almost all of them are glue addicts.

As poverty and unemployment continue to rise in Morocco, more parents are unable to provide for their children, and more children end up living on the streets.

Crisis worsens

Cheap and easy to get, the children use glue to numb the feelings of cold, hunger and rejection.

A United Nations report says glue sniffing is making street children prone to tuberculosis, and they are contracting sexually transmitted diseases as they fall back on prostitution to pay for their habit.

Najat M’jid, president of Baiti, Morocco’s first and only association for the protection of street children, says the situation is urgent as some street children sniff between five and 20 tubes per day.

"We have to work with the street children very, very soon because when they become dependent on glue it’s very difficult to build with them a life project," Mr M’jid says.

"The impact of the glue on the brain really is a step to marginalisation and delinquency," he says.

Baiti is using sport to teach street children about the effects of glue on their lungs, and offers psychiatric counselling.

But the association is overstretched and cannot compensate for the lack of state-run social services.

Najat M’jid believes if more is not done soon, Morocco is heading for a street children crisis on the scale of Brazil.

NOWHERE TO TURN: State Abuses of Unaccompanied Migrant Children by Spain and Morocco

State Abuses of Unaccompanied Migrant Children by Spain and Morocco

This is a Human Rights Watch Report. Clicking the link directly above will take you to this online report, available in several languages. Clicking the links below from the table of contents will take you to those parts of the report. 


This shelter of cardboard and trash in the breakwater of the Ceuta port is home to a group of unaccompanied migrant boys who refused to stay at the San Antonio residential center after they were abused by staff and older boys living at the center. © 2001 Clarisa Bencomo/Human Rights Watch

Supplementary Materials

What You Can Do

II. Context

III. Residential Centers

IV. Arbitrary Age Determination Procedures

V. Expulsion and legal residence

VI. The lack of effective mechanisms for ensuring rights

VII. Morocco’s failure to provide care and protection

VIII. Recommendations

To the Spanish Central Government

To the Government of Morocco

To Donor Countries
To the United Nations
To the Council of Europe
To the European Union IX. Conclusion