Posted by: Home Strange Home | September 28, 2010

Child Abuse at Islamic Schools in Senegal

There are an estimated 50,000 talibés (students) that live and study the holy Qur’an in daara (Koranic schools) in Senegal, purportedly receiving an Islamic education for free.  They are taught by a marabout (a religious leader, teacher, and scholar), who acts as their de facto guardian once they have been sent away from their family.  A marabout can be responsible for 40 to 100 talibés.

Because the marabout is not paid or funded by the government, they have to be humble and ask for food.  However, this task has been delegated to their students, who are required to bring money and food back to their teachers.  If they come back empty handed, they are beaten, and sometimes severely, leaving scars.  Sometimes they don’t even make it back – weaving through the traffic with their collection tins, the young talibés often get run over and killed.

In the worst cases, critics argue that the children learn nothing of the holy Qur’an and are merely exploited as a source of child labour by the marabouts.  While the education normally runs from the age of 6 to 17 years, boys as young as 4 years old have been enlisted as forced talibés.

From the marabouts’ perspective, it is the fault of the government for not financially supporting a traditional Islamic education, so they have to send the children out to beg.  A steady supply of boys continues to the schools because of a combination of religious duty and economic pragmatism; sending a boy to the daara means one less child to support.  And Senegalese people continue to give because they practice zakat, the Third Pillar of Islam which consists of charitable or welfare giving.

In Senegal, seven teachers were sentenced guilty for forced begging earlier this month.  However, they were not required to serve a prison term, but only received a fine and probation, meaning they will go to jail if they were found to force the children to beg again within the next six months.

Going forward, the Senegalese government has now banned marabouts from using children to beg.  Whether this gesture is merely symbolic or liable to be actively enforced remains to be seen.  The measure was adopted in response to pressure from aid donors and the international community, notably Human Rights Watch, which released a comprehensive report in April 2010 on forced begging and talibé abuse in Senegal.

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