Human Rights Watch has recently published a very interesting, and shocking, report on the abuse faced by boys in some Quranic schools in Senegal. It reveals that around 50,000 boys, known as talibés, most under the age of 12 are forced to beg on the streets.
Teachers, marabouts, have been entrusted for years to educate children in Quranic schools. Their position is to give boys a religious and moral education; but the reality of the situation is actually miles away from this. Marabouts approach families in rural areas and neighbouring countries and promise the young boys an education and a better life.
Instead of an education, boys are forced to beg on the streets and have a quota they must meet each day. Much of the marabouts’ money and food comes from the boys’ begging; they typically collect between $20,000 and $60,000 a year which is a substantial amount considering most people in the country live on less than $2 a day. The goods, such as sugar, money and rice that the talibés bring in are not used in any way to shelter, clothe or feed them. They are at high risk of disease, physical and sexual abuse and accidents as they are forced to beg in the busy city centres among cars.
If boys are unable to meet their quota and come back with fewer goods, or react to the slave-like conditions they live in, they are beaten violently. The report highlights cases where talibés have been beaten in stress positions, chained and bound. The boys are also psychologically abused, making it hard for them to run away.
An 11 year old boy recounts his experience as a talibé
“Every day I had to bring the marabout 600 CFA ($1.30), rice, and sugar. Every time I couldn’t, the marabout would beat me with an electric cord. He would strike me so many times on the back and the neck; too many to count…. Each time I was beaten, I would think of my family, who never laid a hand on me. I would remember being at home. Eventually I ran away, I couldn’t handle it anymore.”
Boys are forced to sleep in abandoned or half-built buildings that offer no protection from the cold and the rain. Usually they are made to sleep 30 in a room with no covers and often not even mattresses. Most boys interviewed for the report said they only had one change of clothes and no shoes, forcing them to beg barefoot. When they fall ill, which happens quite often due to their living conditions, the talibés are made to beg to pay for their medicine. More than 1,000 boys run away from the Quranic schools every year, leaving them vulnerable to even further exploitation.
It is vital that the governments of Senegal and Guinea-Bissau pay far more attention to the Quranic schools which have for years been allowed to work without regulations. Religious education is twisted into exploitation, and boys who should be receiving an education and a better life are in fact slaves. The anti-trafficking laws which exist need to be implemented in order to ensure that children are not being trafficked into exploitation and forced begging. Awareness needs to be raised in the communities, among families and children to make sure they know potential dangers, risks and can spot fake promises and signs of trafficking.