Just like in previous years, this holiday season has seen many school girls from various Senegalese provinces converge on the capital Dakar. The ultimate goal is to find jobs that generate as much money as possible before starting the new school year. But for many the adventure turns out to be a costly one.
By Khalil Dième, Dakar
From June to the end of September, schoolgirls, mainly from the Casamance area, flock to Dakar’s wealthy neighbourhoods to try and score a monthly wage between 30 and 45 euros. They see it as an opportunity to make ends meet back home. But they soon realise the remunerations are quite meagre, let alone that they are being seriously exploited. Which makes them resort to trading sex for various favours from their employers.
Sokhana Diaby, a 20-year-old high school girl, has been “dating” her employer, a policeman, for two weeks in the up-market neighbourhood of Almadies. “He must be between 30 and 35 years old,” she says. “I earn 35 euros a month, but it’s not enough to cater for my needs. So I started seducing him until he finally asked me out.” Diaby says that she is currently enjoying numerous privileges. “My policeman will buy me clothes and school stationary.”
The men in Dakar tend to exploit the situation of schoolgirls in need of cash. Another teenage girl, who doesn’t want her identity to be disclosed, says she came to Dakar to find a job, with the sole purpose of helping her mother out. She says that her employer’s son immediately took a strong liking to her and would always buy her small gifts. “I ended up accepting his sexual advances,” the high school girl confesses.
According to SCOFI, an organization connected with the Ministry of Education that aims to reinforce girls' education, especially in rural areas, a lot of these young girls return home pregnant. A teacher with the SCOFI programme in Ziguinchor, the main city in the Casamance area, says this phenomenon increases school dropout rates. “We see it all over the region. A number of them interrupt their studies, with the intention of resuming after having delivered their baby. But others will simply quit their studies altogether.”
Célestine Ndye, SCOFI's regional vice president, says that during the 2011-2012 school year, more than 20 students, mainly in villages, dropped out as a result of falling pregnant after having worked in Dakar.
Mariama Sané, the mother of one of these girls, is bitter. She says that her daughter has let her down. “I had high hopes for her, because she was the only one among my five daughters who was going to school. Therefore I was counting on her.”
Sané adds that she was reluctant to let her daughter go to Dakar for the holidays and work as a maid. “But she insisted so much that in the end I agreed. And then she came back pregnant.” It could cost the family dearly. “She has been out of school for a year. I don’t have time to look after her baby.”
A young mother, who wants to remain anonymous, speaks from experience. “I will never advise my sisters to go on that adventure. It’s full of pitfalls. You are either treated as a slave or sexually exploited by the employer,” says the young girl, who will always regret what happened to her during the 2010 holidays.