Friends in need: how a grassroots volunteer group is helping child migrants in west Africa

Across west and central Africa, groups of adolescents have created a network to support young migrants travelling alone. Treating them like friends, they offer advice, shelter and opportunities for training.

It is not unusual for minors in the region to move around unaccompanied. They can be sent to stay with family members to study, for instance, or may get a job away from home to provide their household with an extra income. In the worst cases they are fleeing wars, abuse or violence at home, including early marriages. But young people have other reasons to move too, which may involve aspirations for the future and a desire to discover the world.

The decision to depart home is usually made between the ages of 14 and 18. Bus rides, long walks and lifts on motorbikes are seen as part of an adventure before realising that with the journey comes isolation, a struggle for food, no place to sleep and exposure to exploitation.

Mariko Fatoumata, a 16-year-old from Mali, has met many children on the move in the bustling market facing her mother’s restaurant in the outskirts of Bamako. She is one of more than 30 youth volunteers with the grassroots organisation African Movement of Working Children and Youth (AMWCY)’s child migration programme who meet at the restaurant every week.

“It is a good place to keep an eye on children passing by,” she says. “If they seem to need help, we approach them. Sometimes we offer meals to those who cannot buy food. Each of us has committed to sponsor a migrant child, taking them home to sleep and walking with them into the city the next day”…

Continue reading in The Guardian, 6 October 2015. Photo: a volunteer worker for the African Movement of Working Children and Youth © AMWCY