Homeless shelter for children doubles capacity due to COVID-19 in Senegal, recipient of UNODC aid


DAKAR  When the first case of COVID 19 reached Senegal, the Samu Social shelter for homeless children in the capital didn’t wait long before deciding to make space for more young residents, doubling its capacity.

With 50 residents and 10 permanent staff living at the shelter, there are twice as many mouths to feed during the pandemic. Thanks to UNODC, supported by USAID, essential food supplies and medical equipment was provided to the Samu Sociale and other centres like it, through the Ministry of Women and Children. 


Children at the Samu Social homeless shelter eat together in the courtyard (before COVID 19), and above, enjoying a meditation class

Dakar’s streets, like in many cities around the world, near emptied as the government declared a state of emergency and issued a curfew to protect the population from COVID-19.  Fewer people going about their business means fewer opportunities to find something to eat for the capital’s homeless children. 


Beatrice Mendy, interim-head Samu Social Shelter

“Some children either find their own way here or we bring them back during our street patrols. They understand what is COVID19 now and how to protect themselves and others. They don’t request to go outside as much anymore,” said Mendy.

In the art room, children stand and others sit at low wooden desks as they noisily fight for crayons to colour in their drawings. Their mouths are hidden behind their mandatory facemasks, but their shrieks of laughter echo around the tiled corridors of the shelter.

Ten tons of rice, 100 litres of cooking oil, five tons of sugar, and 500 milk cartons were handed over to the Ministry of Family and Child Protection as part of UNODC’s support to the national COVID-19 response to return homeless and trafficked children home.   Flash thermometers, hand sanitizer, masks and soaps were also donated. The Samu Social resident doctor regularly checks all the children for any symptoms and takes their temperatures daily.  New arrivals are quarantined for 14 days before joining the main group.

The shelter is assisting the Ministry of Family and Child Protection in the national plan to withdraw children from the street, and took in 49 children. So far 20 have returned to their families. “We have a dedicated team that specializes in family search and mediation. If we don't find their families or the mediation hasn’t gone well - we don't send the children back,” she said.

Aged between five and 25, the majority of the children and young adults are male.  All are runways from unstable family situations or have fled violent mistreatment and forced begging in religious schools, she said.  

Some are chained she says holding up metal shackles used to lock around their ankles that a child brought to the centre with him. 


Ms Mendy holds up metal shackles some of the rescued children escaped from. 80% of residents are trafficking victims she says

“Eighty percent are victims of human trafficking. They have run away from the religious schools where the children are chained up like slaves. If they manage to run away they end up on the street and their situation gets even more complicated from there,” said Mendy.

A study carried out by the Senegalese Ministry of Justice found that Dakar has more than 1000 religious schools with some 54,000 Koranic students and half send them out to beg on the streets for up to five hours a day. In around 10% of schools, it can be longer than 5 hours.

While it’s feared that measures to control Covid-19 will impact victims of trafficking by hindering access to services and support for victims and survivors, due to temporarily closed shelters and disrupted services, the Samu Social plans to expand.

On average a child spends a month here before the centre is able to help them get back on their feet or mediate a return home. Around 250 children are successfully returned to their families every year.


Art class at the Samu Social

For more information:

UNODC and Partners support Senegal to get street children home during COVID-19