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Friday, December 02, 2016
Senegal's Islamic Schools
Many are sent by parents in Senegal to Islamic schools, called daaras, where they are expected to receive food, shelter and teachings from the Koran. But tens of thousands of children in daaras across the West African nation are forced to beg in the streets to make money for their teachers, called marabouts, said rights groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Anti-Slavery International.
President Macky Sall in June ordered the removal of children from the streets and said those who force them to beg would be imprisoned in a drive to end a practice estimated by the United Nations to generate $8 million a year for Koranic teachers in the capital.
Yet fewer than 1,000 talibe [street-kids] of more than 30,000 in Dakar have been swept off the streets to date, with marabouts hiding them away or dressing them smartly to evade detection, said the state's national director of child protection Niokhobaye Diouf. "Many disappeared after Sall's announcement ... hidden by the crooked people who profit from their begging," Diouf said.
Sall vowed to close unsafe daaras after nine children died in 2013 in a fire, yet few have been shut down, while an anti-trafficking law passed in 2005 to stop the abuse of talibe has since led to only a dozen prosecutions of marabouts, HRW said. A draft law to regulate and modernise the daaras has stalled amid concerns from marabouts about the integration of the schools into Senegal's education system, activists said.
Many activists said prosecuting marabouts is key to ending abuses. "With the regulatory law in limbo and daaras not part of the education system, how else can Senegal ensure talibe are not subjected to begging and abuse?" said Lauren Seibert of HRW.
Yet few prosecutors choose to take on cases against marabouts, according to a spokesman for the justice ministry's anti-trafficking task force (CNLTP). Only a handful of marabouts have been jailed in cases of extreme abuse and deaths of talibe in recent years, activists said, while Senegal has only made two convictions for forced begging since 2014, found the U.S. TIP report.
"It may be harder to change the mindset of prosecutors than that of marabouts," said Laetitia Bazzi of the U.N. children's agency (UNICEF).