This project was singled out for distinction among the submissions to Magnum Photography Awards 2016 by juror Newsha Tavakolian. Each juror selected one photographer—discover why this one stood out.

Artist’s Statement

“Talibé” is an Arabic term for disciple.

What tries to pass as a form of education is only a way of business for exploiting children every day in Senegal. What should be a school is, often times, a place of torture.

These Koranic schools, known as daaras, are no more than fragile buildings where atrocities are committed against children aged between 5 and 15 years old. While “students” there, they are forced to spend more than 8 hours a day begging in the streets for money. The rest of their time is spent learning the Koran, while the marabout, their teachers, collect the pupils’ daily earnings.

The number of talibés has been increasing lately and there are more than 30,000 boys subjected to forced begging in the Dakar region alone. Children trafficking plays a crucial part in the recent growth. Most of the talibés are Senegalese but the number of children being taken from neighboring countries such as Guinea-Bissau has also been increasing.

Talibés survive in overcrowded and unsanitary daaras. Malaria, skin diseases, breathing problems and stomach parasites are common among them. Many of these children struggle in this situation for many years, leading a portion of them to flee to the streets once their despair has completely taken over.

The physical abuse they receive is known by those living on the streets but remains officially hidden inside these masked schools. The guardians are aware of the crimes they permit but seek a way to continue ignoring the problem while keeping them behind closed doors. Meanwhile, the abusers themselves continue to exploit children without any ounce of concern that the law might be applied against them.

—Mario Cruz

About the Book:

“Talibés Modern Day Slaves,” contains 70 black-and-white photographs as well as an introduction from Lauren Seibert from Human Rights Watch and an essay by Fatou Diouf of We Are One Sn, a non-profit dedicated to helping talibés.

The texts are in English, Arabic, Portuguese and French. The first edition of 1000 copies will provide local and international NGOs working on the issue an enduring testimony and concrete evidence about the systematic exploitation of children in some daaras in Senegal. One of the excuses was the lack of evidence—now the evidence will be available to everyone. It will also be distributed in schools, libraries and local associations across Senegal and Guinea-Bissau. Hopefully, this will help trigger a social change.

The book was possible through a Kickstarter campaign that gathered $29,684 from 371 backers and is now being produced to be presented at this year’s Visa Pour L’Image. It will be the first of three presentations. Perpignan, Lisbon (September) and New York (October).

Pre-ordered copies are available through the publisher FotoEvidence’s website.

Below is a brief video showing the book production in process:

In June, I went to Guinea-Bissau to show the book there for the first time. There were two exhibitions—one in Bissau and the other in Gabu, one of the regions that suffers most from children trafficking. There was a discussion session with Guinean authorities, Koranic teachers and local NGOs. The exhibition continues to travel around the country so locals can understand what is happening to more than 50,000 children in Senegal.

Since the first publication of the book and my World Press Photo award, numerous children were rescued from Senegal and brought back to Guinea-Bissau. This was already being done but the pace increased significantly once the work started getting international attention. Indeed, in the 24 hours after the WPP announcement, 28 children were rescued and more continue to be freed to this day.

—Mario Cruz