Tens of thousands of children at Islamic schools in Senegal are being forced to beg by their teachers despite a government drive to sweep them off the streets, activists said on Tuesday.
These children, known as talibe, are sent by parents in the West African nation or trafficked from neighboring countries such as Guinea-Bissau to schools called daaras where they are expected to receive food, shelter and teachings from the Koran.
But at least 50,000 children in Senegal are sent to beg in the streets to make money for teachers, known as marabouts, who beat them if they fail to bring in about 2,000 CFA francs ($3) per day, say rights groups including Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Senegal last year launched a drive to get the talibe off the streets, saying those who force them to beg would be imprisoned in a bid to end a practice estimated by the United Nations to generate $8 million a year for Koranic teachers in Dakar.
"While it's a step in the right direction, Senegal's program to remove children from the streets has hardly made a dent in the alarming numbers of talibe exploited, abused and neglected each and every day," Corinne Dufka of HRW said in a statement.
At least 1,500 children have been taken off the streets of Dakar since June last year, and several hundred have returned to their families, said a report by HRW and Senegal-based Platform for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (PPDH).
However, of these children, more than 1,000 talibes were sent back to the Koranic teachers who had sent them to beg, and the government did not investigate the teachers involved, make any arrests, or inspect the schools, according to the report.
Daaras visited by the Thomson Reuters Foundation revealed dozens of barefoot, dirty and badly clothed children who slept on the ground and lacked access to running water or toilets.
In the past year, HRW said it had documented the deaths of two talibes allegedly due to abuse in Koranic schools, five cases of actual or attempted sexual abuse by teachers, and 28 incidents where children were beaten, chained, or imprisoned.
"To deter abuse and to address this pervasive problem at its core, the government should ensure that abusive teachers face penalties or prosecution," said Dufka of HRW.
The Senegalese government could not be reached for comment.
Alongside the 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.