Whilst Senegal is widely held as an example of a nation that has made a successful transition from colony to independence with a tolerant, secular society, reports are emerging of the abuse of tens of thousands of children who attend Koranic (or Quarnic) residential schools. Around 50,000 boys, the majority aged twelve and under, some as young as four, are sent to these schools mainly by fathers who want them schooled in Islamic tradition but also because of poverty and an inability to provide for their children. Many of these children are from villages in Guinea-Bissau.
However, far from learning the Koran and the Islamic way of life, most are learning how to beg on the streets, mainly in the Senegal capital of Dakar. The begging takes place seven days a week by the boys, known as talibé children (from the Arabic for student), who are reported to suffer extreme neglect and abuse by their so called teachers, known as 'marabouts'. The African director at the Human Rights Watch stated "Senegal should not stand by while tens of thousands of talibé children are subjected every day to beatings, gross neglect, and, in fact, conditions akin to slavery."
Ironically whilst these talibé street children beg for 5-7 hours every day whilst away from home at school, their actual studies during the evenings simply comprise the learning of verses of the Koran off by heart so that when they leave school that's pretty much all they can do with none of the broader education that would assist them in finding adult employment. Part of the failure to address this problem in Senegal, which has tried various approaches including the banning of begging, is that talibé children, having been schooled in religious doctrine, are easy to control by religious leaders boosting their brotherhood numbers and therefore their influence in the community.
Its therefore in the interest of these leaders to maintain the talibé role even though the actual government is a signatory to all international convention son the rights of children and incorporated them into national law. Apart from the talibé, there are an estimated 6,000 - 10,000 street children on the streets of Dakar, the country's capital city. These are the children who have no where to return to and who are forced to harass pedestrians, beg and run between passing cars in the hope of finding lost change. At night they sleep in cardboard boxes with rice sacks for blankets. Yet there are a further 90,000 child beggars who do have homes to return to, but are forced onto the streets by parents in the hope that they will return with anything to supplement the meagre family income.
This video documentary explores the issue of street children in Senegal and the attempts to highlight its practice and end it once and for all. as many of these talibé children are forced into begging whilst attending unregulated Koranic schools.
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