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Casablanca Kids
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Casablanca Kids

Every year, thousands of children travel to Casablanca from far-flung shantytowns. Living rough, many fall prey to sexual exploitation and cruelty. It is a problem the government prefers to ignore, but there are some local people brave enough to stand up and make a difference.

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Segment 1

VOICEOVER
Nighttime in Casablanca, a world away from the intrigue of the Hollywood legend. It's Morocco's largest city. Four million people live here. Thousands are young and homeless. Tonight, one man discreetly seeks out the city's street kids. His name is Omar Saadoun. In Casablanca, these youngsters are at best a nuisance, at worst a mark of shame to be pushed back into the darkness. It's an angry scene: the crowd turns against Omar for shining a light on Casablanca's grimy underbelly.
OMAR SAADOUN [Children's advocate]
What do you do for these kids? Answer me. Answer me!
MAN
It is the government's responsibility.
OMAR SAADOUN
What is your role as a citizen? You do nothing for them. You're just being violent with them and calling them names.
VOICEOVER
Casablanca's not an easy city for these youngsters who live on the margins, nor for those who try to help them.
OMAR SAADOUN
The dangers I face are countless. The most dangerous incident was when some young kids threatened me with a knife. I tried to interfere when I saw a kid suffering from burns. I wanted to take him with me to take him to the doctor, but the young kids refused to give him to me. When I insisted, they wanted to kill me with the knife.
VOICEOVER
There's no secret to the phenomenon of street kids, and Casablanca's like many other cities: not enough jobs, poverty, family breakdowns, domestic violence all play their part. There's about 15,000 children living rough on the streets here. They're exposed to the sex trade. Many end up on drugs or sniffing glue. The Moroccan government's way of dealing with this problem has largely been to lock these kids up.
TITLE
Casablanca Kids
VOICEOVER
Day breaks over Casablanca, but for many it's a false dawn. Omar Saadoun's at the city's main bus station. Every year, thousands of young children turn up from far-flung villages and shantytowns in search of a new life. Today, Omar meets another couple who've taken a one-way ticket to nowhere.
OMAR SAADOUN
Are you okay? You didn't brush your hair this morning. Let's do this, so you can wake up and have some fresh air. Are you okay? Why do you look so scared?
VOICEOVER
Anas is just nine years old, and Ashraf barely a teenager. Anas came to escape a father who beats him mercilessly and Ashraf to find his father who abandoned him years ago. If it were not for Omar, they'd be destined to a life as outcasts on the city's seamy streets.
ASHRAF
My father ran away to Casablanca, and then my grandmother would not take care of me.
OMAR SAADOUN
Does your father beat you?
ANAS
Not always, sometimes.
OMAR SAADOUN
I can talk to your father so that he never beats you again. I will explain to him that you are still very young and that he should not beat you a lot. I am not going to tell your father that you slept in the street. Understand?
VOICEOVER
Frightened, fragile, and lost, these boys can count themselves fortunate: they've been found by the only group in the whole of Morocco committed to helping street kids.
OMAR SAADOUN
Where did you sleep yesterday?
ANAS
In the bus station.
OMAR SAADOUN
You slept in the bus station?
ANAS
Yes.
VOICEOVER
It's not the most salubrious part of the city, but this is the Casablanca headquarters of Bayti, a charitable organization dedicated to helping abandoned kids, runaways, sexually exploited youngsters, and the victims of violence. Its motto is "right to life not to survival, to affection not pity, to respect not rejection." Set up 13 years ago, Bayti's creator is Dr. Najat M'Jid, a Casablanca pediatrician.
DR. NAJAT M'JID
I don't like injustice, and I don't like inequality. I don't like the fact that children are being hurt. That's why it's important for me to work with the children on the streets, and defend their rights.
VOICEOVER
Located on the Atlantic coast of Africa, Casablanca is a cosmopolitan city. There's much about it that's attractive and affluent. A place of wide avenues and classic French art deco architecture, this sprawling metropolis hides a dark side.
VOICEOVER
The city's port is a refuge for those who live on the edge -- society's fringe dwellers.
DR. NAJAT M'JID
In the street there is violence. There are drugs: they sniff glue because it's a drug. There's sexual abuse. There's harassment by the police. There's hunger and cold.
VOICEOVER
A freezing, filthy place, Casablanca's port reeks of fish guts and industrial solvent, the solvent a salve to the port's transient, to block out the biting cold and the pain of alienation. Here, Omar Saadoun is king of the kids, one of the few who genuinely cares about their plight.
TEENAGER [Homeless]
I swear, nobody can feel what we're going through.
OMAR SAADOUN
How long have you been living in the port?
CHILD [Homeless]
More than three years. I try to earn my bread.
VOICEOVER
But it's not bread that most of these kids scavenge and beg for.
OMAR SAADOUN
Most kids living in the street, about 95 percent of them, sniff glue. All these kids come from poor families, or families that experience breakdown either because of divorce or the death of one of the parents.
DR. NAJAT M'JID
When I saw the children in the streets, the first thing is incomprehension. I didn't understand. It was unthinkable. Afterwards, I felt a great deal of horror and anger.
VOICEOVER
Najat M'Jid has channeled her horror and anger into fundraising. A tireless campaigner, she has to raise USD$7 million every year to keep her organization running. Tonight, the founder of Bayti is appealing to Casablanca's rich to donate to her street kids program.
WOMAN [Fundraiser attendee]
She's absolutely amazing, she's always in action, and she is really generous with herself.
WOMAN 2 [Fundraiser attendee]
Najat has the reputation of being a woman who is afraid of nothing, fearless, afraid of no one, and is a model for many women.
VOICEOVER
Since 1993, Bayti has helped more than 17,000 children. Children who cannot be reunited with their families are given a place to stay. Older kids are taught trades. Those of school age are provided with a free education in a class run and funded by Bayti. Nineteen-year old Nawal is a Bayti graduate. A street kid, Nawal spent four years at the Bayti school before training as a hairdresser. The horrors many Moroccan youngsters are forced to endure -- sexual exploitation, abuse, and prostitution -- are the stuff of nightmares. Nawal now works in this Casablanca salon and readily acknowledges a debt of gratitude to Bayti and Dr. Najat M'Jid.Ę
NAWAL
I owe her a lot, not only Dr. M'Jid, but also all the educators who take care of us, especially the night staff, who are very understanding. If a girl was not able to sleep, they would listen to her.
VOICEOVER
Just down the road from the Bayti school and office, this is the shantytown of Sidi Moumen on Casablanca's dusty outskirts. It's home to nearly 200,000 Moroccans. This fetid dump not only produces poverty: three years ago it spawned several suicide bombers, angry young men who blew themselves up in central Casablanca, killing 45 people. Aware that abandoned children can quickly be drawn into the deadly embrace of extremist Islam, Omar Saadoun promotes a different world game.
OMAR SAADOUN
Come on! Keep going. Run and get the ball! Let's go!
VOICEOVER
Swapping their filthy street clothes for a soccer strip, these youngsters are looking to sidestep violence, drugs, and sexual abuse. The beach is just a stone's throw from the port, but to kids like Ashraf it's a different world, one where they're embraced, not cast out.
DR. NAJAT M'JID
When I see them playing sport in particular I see them happy, which is important. I see them far from the problems of the street.
VOICEOVER
Najat M'Jid is one of Casablanca's privileged but she too knows emotional adversity. Widowed seven years ago, she's the mother of two daughters. Safira is the younger.
SAFIRA [Daughter, Dr. Najat M'Jid]
She's a passionate woman, who is brave and who is strong. When she believes in something she goes with it to the end, and that's why she's a magnificent woman.
VOICEOVER
In a country where the king boasts in excess of 20 palaces, the government's dereliction is damning. But, thanks to Bayti, a generation of homeless and hopeless young Moroccans have been given the chance to kick-start their lives.
TITLE
[end credits]