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Senegal Religious Leaders Respond to Crackdown on Begging

Religious leaders in Senegal object to a government crack down on begging because the prime minister told people to go to churches and mosques instead of begging in the streets.

The Senegalese government recently announced it would crackdown on people begging in the streets of the West African country. Begging has been illegal since 2005, but the law is rarely enforced.

The announcement brought the ire of some of Senegal's religious leaders, after Prime Minister Souleymane Ndene Ndiaye urged the country's churches and mosques to take in the beggars.

Priest Emiliano Martinez, who serves as the head of a cathedral in Tambacounda, Senegal, says churches and mosques are places of prayer, not begging. He says he thinks there are other routes for helping the poor population.

An imam in the same region, Samba Sarr, said the government should take responsibility of the country's poor, too.

Sarr said the government should create centers for the poor before they send them to mosques and churches. He added authorities should reduce the salaries of the ministers, senators and members of parliament and use that money to help the beggars.

The prime minster said those beggars leaving the streets would be given a place to stay.

Earlier this year, New York-based Human Rights Watch published a report describing how thousands of children are forced to beg in the streets by religious leaders, known as marabouts.

The author of the report, Human Rights Watch Researcher Matt Wells, said the government's renewed commitment to monitor begging is a positive step, but it does not address the underlying issues of child trafficking and forced begging.

"It demonstrates, on some level, a commitment or an engagement of the Senegalese government, which is positive," said Wells. "But sustainable solutions to problems of forced begging involve the prosecution of those that are trafficking these kids, as well as regulation of these schools-not just mass roundups of kids and other beggars."

According to the Human Rights Watch report, some of the marabouts who send children to beg in the streets take in thousands of dollars in profit every year.