Can Sene­gal stop child beg­ging, traf­fick­ing by Is­lamic teach­ers?

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

DAKAR: Dressed in ill-fit­ting foot­ball kits and cov­ered in dust and dirt, dozens of young boys chat­ter, laugh and chase a ball as Maimouna Balde leafs through a list of names. When a scuf­fle breaks out be­tween two boys, Balde in­stantly steps be­tween the for­mer child beggars in the yard of the shel­ter for aban­doned chil­dren in Sene­gal’s cap­i­tal, Dakar. “It is tough here - many of the boys have been beaten by their teach­ers and forced to live on the streets,” the head of the Ginddi cen­tre told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion, read­ing a file list­ing boys as young as five and notes on var­i­ous abuses.

Many of these chil­dren, known as tal­ibe, are sent by par­ents in Sene­gal or traf­ficked from neigh­bour­ing coun­tries such as Guinea Bis­sau 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 An­tiSlav­ery In­ter­na­tional (ASI). These influential Is­lamic fig­ures, re­spected and even feared by com­mu­ni­ties and politi­cians, pun­ish their pupils if they fail to bring in some 2,000 CFA francs ($3) per day, ac­tivists said.

Along­side a drive to take the tal­ibe off the streets, the state is con­sid­er­ing a law to reg­u­late daaras - seek­ing to raise teach­ing stan­dards and elim­i­nate traf­fick­ing and forced beg­ging. Yet ac­tivists are con­cerned that the clout of marabouts may hold back ef­forts to pro­tect chil­dren in the Ko­ranic schools as Sene­gal wres­tles with its iden­tity amid a ris­ing tide of Is­lamist mil­i­tancy in the re­gion.

Many peo­ple in the Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity but staunchly sec­u­lar West African na­tion are assert­ing their cul­tural and re­li­gious iden­tity over West­ern val­ues in re­sponse to grow­ing anti-Is­lam sen­ti­ment in Europe and else­where, said Sarah Mathew­son of ASI. “This extends to marabouts feel­ing ex­cluded from Sene­gal’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, which op­er­ates in French,” she said. “They must be in­te­grated and sup­ported if things are to im­prove.” Many of the tal­ibe ar­riv­ing at the Ginddi cen­tre are sick and trau­ma­tised, ac­cord­ing to staff at the state-run shel­ter, which works to re­unite chil­dren with their fam­i­lies. 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 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.

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