Dakar – Human rights groups in Senegal on Tuesday criticised what they said was an ineffectual crackdown on child begging driven by Koranic schools, saying a year-long push to remove 50 000 children from the streets is failing.
In July 2016 the government began rounding up children as young as four who are forced to beg by their Islamic teachers for a certain daily quota of money, sugar or rice, checking them for disease or signs of maltreatment at dedicated reception centres.
But Human Rights Watch and the Platform for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (PPDH) said in a report that a lack of prosecutions and reform linked to “daaras”, or Islamic boarding schools, means little has changed.
“The government opened no formal investigations into the teachers involved, no one was arrested, and no official inspections were conducted to ascertain the living conditions at the daaras,” the joint HRW-PPDH report concluded.
Humility and respect
The sight of the boys – known as “talibes” – begging shoeless and in rags is common in Senegal, where poorer parents frequently send children to Koranic boarding schools with hopes they will learn Islam’s holy book and leave them with one less mouth to feed.
The rights groups said more than 1 000 children identified by the government as beggars ultimately ended up back at the same boarding schools overseen by the same teachers.
“Senegal’s programme to remove children from the streets has hardly made a dent in the alarming numbers of talibe children exploited, abused and neglected each and every day,” said Corinne Dufka, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
The rights groups suggested that the government, currently in an election period, “strengthen the programme as it enters its second year, to investigate and prosecute abusive teachers, and to establish a legal framework to regulate the traditional Koranic boarding schools.”
Powerful religious figures back the talibe system in Senegal, saying it teaches children humility and respect. They complain the “daaras” are not supported enough by the government.
Toll of inaction
Coordinator of the PPDH Mamadou Wane said up to 28,500 talibes beg on the streets of the capital, Senegal, alone, adding that a sea change in public opinion was needed.
“We have a population that gives. Giving money to a child in the street doesn’t help him, the contrary in fact,” Wane said at a press conference.
The toll of inaction is serious. Beyond frequent reports of scabies and malnourishment seen among the talibe, Human Rights Watch has documented two deaths from abuse at the hands of teachers, five sexual abuse cases and 28 cases of beating and imprisonment in the past year in Senegal.
The US State Department has said that Senegal’s government does not allocate enough money to the family ministry to help victims, and that existing legislation passed to tackle the problem is not enforced.