Senegalese authorities have arrested seven Koranic teachers for forcing children to beg in Dakar.
Senegalese police arrested the seven Koranic teachers, also known as marabouts, after the government announced a crackdown on begging in the capital.
Human Rights Watch Researcher Matt Wells said police interviewed more than twenty young boys who were under the care of the Koranic teachers.
"Apparently they used the testimony of a fair number of kids that they rounded up to find these seven marabouts and then they arrested them and quickly prosecuted them," he said.
The teachers have admitted to forcing their students to beg. The verdict and sentencing is scheduled for next Wednesday.
News reports say each teacher admitted to forcing the students, known as talibe, to beg on the streets each day. The teachers said they have been doing this for a long time and did not think they would be arrested for the practice.
Last week, Prime Minister Souleymane Ndene Ndiaye, said the government would enforce the country's law prohibiting voluntary and forced begging.
Human Rights Watch released a report earlier this year that described how thousands of children are forced to beg in the streets by the marabouts.
Wells, who authored the report, said these arrests signal positive efforts to stop the practice of forced begging among children. "The prosecution of these seven demonstrates certainly some level of engagement and will on the part of the government to really combat this problem more at its root," he said.
The teachers said they each had between 10 and 50 students in their care.
UNICEF estimates that there are nearly 100,000 talibe in Senegal who are forced to beg. Wells added that what happens to the children is equally as important as arresting the marabouts.
"The government needs to make sure that the kids that are being rounded up, that the kids that are still left in these daaras, that there are adequate protection mechanisms in place to get them back to their families but to make sure in the meantime that they are adequately provided for," he said. "But if that's done, I think clearly this represents a positive step on the part of the government."
Some of the talibe who were under the care of the arrested marabouts have been taken to a government-run center known as the Ginddi Center. The center's director, Sarata Diallo, said the children are now in good hands.
The Koranic teachers will be sentenced next Wednesday. Prosecutors has asked they serve six months in prison with two years of probation. The defense has asked for leniency, because the law was never applied in the past.