(JollofNews) – Senegal is failing to protect thousands of boys in Islamic boarding schools from forced begging and torture at the hands of their teachers, rights groups said on Monday.
Tens of thousands of boys known as “talibes” — the vast majority aged under 12 — are forced to beg in Senegal’s streets by often brutally abusive Koranic teachers known as marabouts, according to campaigners.
Making a profit from forced begging has been outlawed since 2005, with a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
But Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Platform for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (PPDH), a coalition of 40 local organisations, said in a report Monday that Senegal had prosecuted “only a handful of cases”.
“Over the last decade, tens of thousands of children have been exploited in the name of education, beaten by their so-called teachers, and subjected to horrific conditions in schools that have no business operating,” said PPDH president Mamadou Wane.
“The message government is sending, by its failure to investigate and prosecute the people behind these abuses, is that the lives of these children are not worth protecting.”
In the Muslim-majority nation where these religious leaders wield enormous social and political power, children have long been entrusted to marabouts who educate them in Koranic schools, called daaras.
But research by New York-based HRW shows that in many city daaras, marabouts are using education as a cover to send the children out to beg, inflicting severe physical and psychological abuse on those who fail to meet daily quotas.
The dismal living conditions were brought to the fore in March 2013 when a fire ripped through a Dakar-based daara housing dozens of children, killing nine who were trapped in their room.
– Beatings with rubber whips –
A 2014 government census of daaras found over 30,000 boys subjected to forced begging in Dakar alone, HRW said, while its own research has indicated that the figure may be closer to 50,000.
HRW said it interviewed talibes in Dakar and the northern coastal town of St Louis who described regular beatings with rubber whips, rope and pieces of wood by their Koranic teachers and assistants.
“An eight-year-old told Human Rights Watch that he was one of several boys repeatedly forced into a room, stripped, held down, and beaten across the torso with a strip of car tyre for extended periods,” the group said.
“Many other children in this and other daaras were visibly suffering from infected wounds and skin diseases and complained also of gastrointestinal illness.”
A marabout typically collects around 500 francs ($0.82/0.76 euros) a day from the boys’ begging in a country where, according to the World Bank, a third of people live on less than $1.25 a day.
HRW said it had interviewed social workers who believed the quotas were beginning to increase.
Exhausted by continuous abuse and near-total deprivation, more than 1,000 boys run away from daaras each year, with Dakar’s many street children the defining legacy of the most exploitative residential Koranic schools.
“The abuse being meted out by these so-called teachers is on display every day and in plain view for all to see, and yet the police and judiciary have consistently failed to open investigations and hold them to account,” said Corinne Dufka, HRW’s west Africa director.
“The suffering of the talibe is a blind spot in Senegalese society.”