Dassa-Zoumé is a city with just over 100,000 inhabitants. It is located in central Benin on the main travel route between the north and south. Surrounded by picturesque hills and forests, the city draws a number of tourists while also being a significant destination for Catholic pilgrims. These factors have helped the city to become a place of financial opportunity, which in turn has led to a rapidly growing population rate. These developments have however, put existing infrastructure under great strain - sanitation, access to medical treatment and schooling are among the most pressing issues. Furthermore, child labour is a severe challenge here.
Since 2005, SOS Children’s Villages has been supporting children, young people and families, and advocating for their rights in Dassa-Zoumé.
Due to tourism and its location on a main travel route, the population of Dassa-Zoumé has been growing rapidly over the past years, as many people move here in hope of a better life. However, this is putting increased pressure on the city’s infrastructure. The majority of families end up living in informal settlements, without access to proper housing, sanitation or safe drinking water. Only 1 in 4 urban households has access to improved sanitation facilities, such as toilets. This creates great risks, especially for children growing up here. Unfortunately, waterborne diseases are common. Furthermore, medical treatment and education are not widely available in these areas of Dassa-Zoumé.
The tradition of ‘vidomegon’, whereby children from poor families are placed in richer families, remains widespread. Traditionally, the children could thus gain access to education that would otherwise have been inaccessible. However, in contemporary Benin, these children often live a slave-like existence full of domestic chores and many suffer abuse of all kinds. It is estimated that around 100,000 children are facing this reality. The children mainly come from rural areas, and the vast majority of them are girls, because sons are seen as a bigger asset for the parents, whereas daughters will become part of their husbands’ families. Sometimes, financial gain can be a motive behind ‘vidomegon’ and some children are sold as domestic servants or labourers.