AFRICA/NIGER - Street children innocent victims in the poorest countries. “They take refuge in remote corners trying to make themselves invisible”

Saturday, 4 March 2023


Niamey (Agenzia Fides) - "On my return from Dosso I had to face a very delicate problem: one of the boys who had been living with us for seven years, and who had created a sewing workshop with his wife, suddenly found himself confronted with his mother and an uncle who claimed, respectively, his legitimate family authority. The uncle in question had abandoned him to go to Côte d'Ivoire and his mother to prostitute herself".
Thus begins the story of Gilles, who 15 years ago created the "Foyer totonn Gilles" in Niamey, the home of his uncle Gilles, where he welcomes about twenty street children together with their families (see Fides, 22/2/ 2022).
Gilles had gone to the Dosso mission to meet Father Rafael Casamayor, a priest of the Society for African Missions, who had helped him a few years ago to get out of a precarious situation.
"Gilles came to spend a few days with us in Dosso because a married couple from our Christian community intends to welcome street children," Fr. Rafael told Fides.
"I invited him because no one better than him could advise them on a project in which he has been involved for 20 years. We spent some unforgettable days during which, in addition to telling us about the work he is doing with these children in the city, he told us about his experience as a street child in Maradi and Niamey".
Resuming his story, Gilles talks about Mohamed, the boy who was Muslim before meeting him and who is now a Catholic. "Mohamed looked for years for his parents, or someone from his family, in vain. With us in Niamey, he learned over time the craft of tailoring and married a Christian. Not long ago, his mother and uncle reappeared to claim family authority. On my return from Dosso, I was called by the police because Mohamed's uncle had hired a band of bandits to kill the boy's mother. Fortunately, the woman was only seriously injured and, in the hospital, she was able to report the facts."
There are many similar episodes, contexts of violence and threats against children living alone in the streets of Niamey: "At the same time, writes Gilles again, I met Ismael, another street child, fleeing the mistreatment of his
stepmother, who occasionally came home in search of food. Ismael found himself in the hospital, with another street child who had shared with him a dish that his stepmother had prepared him to poison him. It took two weeks to find out what really happened until the police finally arrested the stepmother who, a few days ago, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for double attempted murder. Ismael is going to live in his uncle's house in Agadez where he will be able to learn a trade", concludes Gilles.
Father Rafael, with the testimony of Gilles, wanted to bring hope to his community of Dosso. "We learned a lot from his stories and I hope that one day soon we can start a similar project in Dosso because there are many children who go around our city begging and taking refuge in remote corners trying to make themselves invisible by daydreaming", said the missionary. (AP) (Agenzia Fides, 4/3/2023)