Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Jane C. Sugarman

Committee Members

Roger Hart

Jonathan H. Shannon

Timothy R. Mangin

Subject Categories

Africana Studies | Ethnomusicology


Childhood and Youth, Nongovernmental organizations, Children's Rights, Cultural Production, African Music


This dissertation provides a critical examination of how music is used to introduce concepts of children’s rights to children and youth in Dakar, Senegal. I explore why music has been chosen as a tool of engagement and promotion, building on Senegal’s history of youth activism and music as a grassroots tool for inspiring social change and sparking political movements. Both international NGOs and local programs use musical activities, centering children as performers and songwriters, to address rights in Senegal including girls’ equality, the right to education, early marriage, violence towards women and children, access to healthcare, and street children. Outside of NGO intervention, music is used as a didactic tool to pass on lessons of morality and to reinforce notions of good behavior. Through analysis of this new mode of cultural production, I examine how children come to understand and perform concepts of rights. I also investigate how the policies and language of international children’s rights conventions are implemented, opposed, or appropriated in Senegal, drawing primarily on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. A key component of my project and methodology is conducting ethnography with children. With over 50% of the Senegalese population under the age of 18, there is a demographic imperative to understand how children are participating in discourses of rights and development, and to give them voice in this research project. My dissertation is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Dakar, Senegal in four main spaces: a music studio funded by an international NGO where girls write rap songs about children’s and women’s rights; a Senegalese singing competition television show for children; a youth hip hop cultural center that organizes a festival with the local middle school and high school; and a private elementary school. I argue that through this performance context, local interpretations and advocacy of children’s rights re-center western constructions of childhood and posit an Africentered conceptualization of “global” children’s rights.

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