HRW: Senegal Must Crack Down on Quranic Schools' Forced Begging

    16 April, 2014


    From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report.

    Tens of thousands of students attend and live at religious schools known as daaras in Senegal. The private Islamic schools except only boys. The students are called talibe, and they study the Koran.

    Some teachers in daaras also force the students to ask strangers for money and food. The government had promised to stop this begging in the streets by 2015. But the organization Human Rights Watch says there has been little progress.

    A recent government study found that more than 30,000 talibe in Dakar - the capital, currently beg for their schools. The students can be as young as 4 years old. They are often walking the streets shoeless and in torn, old clothes.

    HRW: Senegal Must Crack Down on Quranic Schools' Forced Begging
    FILE - A young talibe raises a begging bowl in front of the grand mosque in Touba, in the central region of Senegal, Feb. 23, 2012.

    Matt Wells is a West Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW). He says the boys must bring back a required amount from begging, or face punishment.

    "Each day there are tens of thousands of boys across the country are sent out onto the streets to beg. They generally have to bring back a set amount of money, uncooked rice and sugar, that's handed over to the Quranic teacher. When they fail to bring back that amount of money, they are often beaten quite brutally," explains Wells.

    Mr Wells says the boys often live in dirty, overcrowded rooms. He says they go hungry and receive very little real education of any kind.

    In March 2013, eight talibe died in a fire in Dakar. Neighbors said they knew the children could not escape from the school building in which they were living.

    After the deadly fire, Senegalese officials promise to take steps against children begging. But Human Rights Watch says, the government has closed only one Quranic school for safety reasons. HRW says, there are hundreds more that violates students rights.

    Senegal's Ministry of Justice says it knows of the talibe problem and is working on new legislation. Awa Ndour is a representative for the Ministry of Justice's Task Force Against Human Trafficking. She says, there is a lot of cultural resistance to laws restricting religion. They are laws banning begging, but enforcement is weak.

    Not all daaras mistreat children or force them to beg. But Matt Wells of Human Rights Watch says, a law establishing rules for Quranic schools would help stop abuse.

    And that's the Education Report from VOA Learning English. For video reports on education and other subjects, visit our website I'm Mario Ritter.