Childcare Services, an Alternative for Children Under 3 in Dakar (Senegal)

March 14, 2024


Dieneba Aidara

Research Officer

El Hadji Malick Sylla

Post-Doctoral Research Scientist


By Dieneba Aidara and Malick Sylla

Early childhood development refers to the growth and learning of children aged 0 to 8 years (PNIDE, 2006). It constitutes a crucial issue to ensure the future of a country. In 2000, the President of the Republic of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, made early childhood care a development priority in an international and regional context favorable to the education of young children. A new early childhood development policy has been initiated in line with the guidelines of the Jomtien Declaration on Education for All 1999 and the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000. It aims to broaden access to early childhood facilities and reduce inequalities to guarantee the protection of the family unit, the first place of education. The implementation of this policy in 2006 gave birth to the toddler hut program, which is managed by the National Agency for Toddler Huts (NATH) (Bassama, 2010). In Senegal, the preschool rate was 17.8% in 2018 (RNSE, 2018). In addition, preschool structures increased from 2,620 to 3,453 between 2013 and 2018, an increase of 833 structures and an Average Annual Growth Rate (AAG) of 5.68% (RNSE, 2018). According to projections, the number of facilities will have to reach 5,548 to provide preschool for 1,280,313 children by 2030 (PAQUET-EF, 2018-2030).

Despite the efforts, early childhood education is still worrying, especially for children under three years old. Indeed, the preschool education policy implemented in Senegal focuses more on children aged 3 to 6, leaving those aged 0-3 years behind. However, today, the context of childcare by the Senegalese family has undergone a very profound social and economic change. The extended family model has shifted towards the nuclear or restricted family model. In addition, mothers are gradually entering the labor market. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2016-2017 study, 62.9% of women in Senegal have created businesses, i.e., are evolving in entrepreneurship, in addition to those working in the formal sector, which represents 75% of Senegalese women who are in the labor market (UN Women 2016). As a result, combining employment and childcare becomes more and more of a burden for these mothers. This proportion of mothers in this situation will likely increase in the coming years due to higher school enrolment rates for girls and women’s access to formal and informal employment. Consequently, households who were used to keeping their children aged 0-3 at home under the supervision of their mother, a family member, or a domestic worker are experiencing problems due to the changes in the family structure and female labor force participation. Affluent households have less of this problem because they have the means to entrust their children to childcare, especially after they have been weaning.

Thus, the need to find childcare support poses serious problems for poor households, because women rely less and less on family members. Home care by the nanny, which was a practical option, also presented numerous limits both in the psychological and physical context; the child was sometimes the victim of malnutrition, intoxication, mistreatment, poor education, accidents, etc. It should be noted that most of these nannies are not childcare specialists (Fall, 2018).  They were domestic workers converted into nannies.

Finally, childcare remains the ideal setting where mothers entrust their child’s care,cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development. Studies have shown that today, several women who work full or part-time in the formal and informal sector say that they “prefer daycare centers instead of homecare by a nanny, because some nannies do not concentrate in their care duties which leads to   screen addiction and  language delay” (RFI Dakar 2016).

This situation has led to a proliferation of paid childcare services throughout almost the entire city of Dakar to meet the needs of women. These childcare services help to relieve women by allowing them to concentrate in their workplace while indirectly playing their role as mothers. Childcare services are sometimes called creches, nurseries, daycare centers, or day centers. They strive to provide a stimulating and safe environment for children. Generally, these services operate throughout the day to accommodate parents’ work schedules (ILO, 2018). However, it should be noted that some nurseries do not meet sufficient quality and safety standards. These types of daycare centers have emerged in certain informal neighborhoods of Dakar to meet the growing demand from low-income women who work outside their homes. From this perspective, it is essential to understand how these childcare services operate in Dakar. Several questions are worth asking:

Does the state approve childcare services, or do they benefit from public subsidies? What is the profile and typology of these childcare services? Are childcare services financially affordable and accessible to all women, even those with low and irregular incomes? Does the quality of childcare services meet demand? What are the factors that influence women’s choice to use childcare services? What are the conditions and implications for workers in the childcare sector?

The answers to these questions will be important for all stakeholders interested in children’s individual and collective well-being. In conclusion, these questions provide ideas and recommendations for future areas of research priority.