Senegal is no stranger to the slave trade, as cities such as Saint-Louis prospered due to the sale of human lives. Gorée Island, which lies just less than 2 miles off the coast of Senegal, was one of West Africa's largest slave trading outposts during the Atlantic Slave Trade. The sale of men, women and children were gathered from across the country and then held like animals, until they made their way on to waiting ships and then sold like cattle in the ‘New World’. The small island was made a Unesco World Heritage site in 1978, however unlike the dramatized use of the island and its slave houses to send visitors into shock and dismay, the selling of slaves is far from history, but a modern reality that continues to plague the country.
While slaves no longer flow in and out of the slave houses of Gorée Island, slavery continues to riddle the country. Senegal is source, transit, and destination country for modern slaves. Most of the country's victims of modern slavery remain children who are forced into marriage; trafficked for commercial sex; or trafficked to beg along the country's city streets.
Recently the fight against slavery in Senegal has taken a new turn, as the country's Parliament begins a much contested debate regarding changing the country's rape laws. Activist and victims are vying for stronger and more stringent laws. Including the parents of one six year-old girl who was recently raped while in the toilets of her school, to the heartbreak and dismay of her parents. The young girl's father stated;
“People who commit such acts should be put in prison for life. This is becoming far too common. There are no guarantees anymore that your child will be safe at school , even primary school. The only way to stop such crimes is to punish the culprits severely. Everyone needs to know that there are consequences for such horrendous actions." (IRIN)
"It is not enough to put rapists in prison and change the laws,” Adama Sow of the Senegalese NGO Action Group Against Child Rape (GRAVE) told IRIN. "That is needed, of course…but we also need to change mentalities. If not we will never overcome this problem." Sow also added that the tradition of early and forced marriage is the leading cause for violence against women and children. Sow cited the recent case of a 12-year-old girl who killed herself to escape her forced marriage. (IRIN)
While the fight against early marriage, sexual violence and trafficking is heating up in the country, there is a great deal of focus which is still needed on Senegal's growing talibe population. According to a report released in February of 2008 by the ILO, the United Nations Children's Fund and the World Bank, there are more than 7,600 child beggars in the capital city of Dakar alone.