2018 PROTECTION AWARD HONOREE
Founder, Empire des Enfants
Street children have plagued the roads of Dakar, Senegal for more than 30 years with an estimated 50,000 children currently at risk throughout the country. From a very young age, talibé children are sent to the city to live and study at Islamic schools—their parents unaware of the realities their children will face once they arrive. These children are often exploited by their teachers in the name of Koranic education, forced into child labor to pay for their studies and housed in conditions of extreme squalor. Teachers demand that talibés deliver daily begging quotas, and if they fail, they are at risk of being physically abused, starved, or left out in the streets where they are often abducted, lured into homes and raped or beaten.
Talibés suffer abuses and dangers that no child should ever have to face. The issue was considered too taboo to speak about for many years. But not to Anta Mbow. She was among the few that dared to address the problem, and more importantly, she made the decision to fight against it and change the future for these vulnerable children.
Born in a lower-class neighborhood of Dakar, Anta married at a young age and moved her family to France in 1972 where she lived for 30 years. She studied hard to become a social worker, putting children at the center of her daily work and raising four children of her own. Returning to Dakar for vacation, she watched in horror as the number of street children grew each year until the city became an unrecognizable place—it was no longer the Senegal she knew and loved.
In 2003, Anta founded Empire des Enfants, a child-based shelter based in Dakar that leads humanitarian action for children in street situations, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. A multidisciplinary team composed of specialized educators, social workers, psychologists and professional artists developed a curriculum of socio-educational opportunities such as sports, craft-making and cultural activities that help to reinforce their identity and promote higher self-esteem. Upon arrival to the shelter, all of the children are legally protected and remain under the care of Empire des Enfants with the ultimate goal of reintegration with their biological families. More than half of the children who are taken in by Empire des Enfants are successfully returned to their families with a new outlook on life. Those who do not have safe, reliable and loving homes to return to are given a permanent home with Anta and her team until they are grown, educated and able to provide for themselves.
Originally a home for young boys, the organization inhabited a rented building that served as the former “Empire Cinema” of Dakar, which had been closed for decades. With the direction from Anta, the building was renovated and rebuilt—a symbol of resurrection to embody a second life and a second chance as a refuge for street children. After more than 15 years, Empire des Enfants relocated to a brand new, fully funded, 13,000 square foot facility in March 2018 that includes an expanded emergency reception area and dormitories that can safely accommodate both boys and girls. To date, nearly 5,000 children have been impacted by Empire des Enfants, and that number continues to grow.
She started with nothing, but for the last 15 years, Anta has worked tirelessly for the care, protection and social reintegration of children who have been exploited and exposed to the dangers of violence, drugs and sexual abuse.