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Koranic Teachers Receive Probation for Forcing Children to Beg

Senegalese courts have given suspended sentences to seven Koranic teachers convicted of forcing children to beg. Human rights officials say the sentences are too lenient.

Seven Koranic teachers have been sentenced to six-months probation and fined $200 after being found guilty of forcing children to beg in Senegal's capital, Dakar.

The Child Labor Program Coordinator at Anti-Slavery International, Catherine Turner, said the London-based human rights organization was initially encouraged by the arrests of the Koranic teachers, known as marabouts. But the light sentence might not be enough to detour other marabouts to end the practice of forced child begging.

"The fine is very small. And because, you know, a marabout who looks after 50 talibes can earn $25 in a day, so it does not even mean a lot potentially to a marabout," Turner said. "And if they have got more talibe in their school, they will be earning more than that. So it really, it does not seem like it will dissuade other marabouts."

Since 2005, it has been illegal in Senegal to beg or force someone to beg in the streets. But until recently the law was rarely enforced.

New York-based Human Rights Watch estimates there are 50,000 child beggars who are forced to beg for money in the streets by their Koranic teachers. The students, known as Talibe, are usually sent to the city to live with these teachers by their parents from rural areas. Turner says the parents often send their children to the teachers, because there is not enough money in the household to feed everyone.

Turner says that this poverty, as well as a lack of educational opportunities in rural areas, are the underlying problems that should be examined if the government hopes to end child begging.

"Just taking kids off streets or in certain areas, or you know sentencing lots and lots of Koranic teachers, I think is not really addressing the problem at its roots probably," Turner said.

But, she added, some action is better than none.