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Senegal Government Urged to Protect Children in Quranic Schools

FILE - Harouna Ba, 11, a Talibe, or Islamic student, holds a begging bowl at a Dara, or Koranic school, in Pikine on the outskirts of Senegal's capital Dakar.

Human Rights Watch has called on the Senegalese government to do more to protect children known as Talibes who are forced by their Quranic teachers to beg for money in the streets.

In a new report, the group noted that during the first half of 2016, at least five children living in residential Quranic schools died, allegedly as a result of beatings meted out by their teachers, known as marabouts, or in traffic accidents while being forced to beg.

Human Rights Watch said “dozens of these children have also been severely beaten, chained, and sexually abused or violently attacked while begging.

It welcomed the Senegalese government’s recent decision to remove the Talibes from the streets.

Lauren Seibert, author of the report says her organization wants the government to sustain the momentum with investigations and prosecutions of the Quranic teachers and others who commit serious violations against children.

“While we welcome this new initiative that Senegal has taken, however, we really think while this is a laudable move, it needs to be sustained with increasing investigation and prosecution for the Quranic teachers that do in fact exploit and abuse their Quranic students called Talibes,” she said.

Seibert said unfortunately some of the abuses often go unprosecuted.

“In this report we outlined a number of these cases of abuse and exploitation that we have documented and we advised that laws must be passed to regulate these traditional Quranic schools, and current existing child protection laws must be enforced to protect these children,” Seibert said.

The report notes that on June 30, 2016, Senegalese President Macky Sall ordered all street children removed from the streets, placed in transit centers, and returned to their parents. He warned that anyone forcing children to beg would be fined or imprisoned.

Seibert said that by mid-July this year, authorities had removed from the streets of the capital, Dakar, more than 300 children.

She said the use of Talibes is a deeply rooted cultural tradition in West Africa where parents have sent their children away to study in Quranic schools. But she said the system has changed over the past decade and many Quranic teachers have taken advantage of the unregulated nature of the schools and started to exploit the children.

Seibert said Human Rights Watch is not at all suggesting that the practice of sending children to Quranic schools should be stopped but that the schools should be regulated and adhere to international standards to protect children’s rights.

“These kids are continuingly still being forced to beg which is a form of exploitation, and they are beaten, sometimes beaten to death. We have documented four cases of kids beaten to death and three just in 2016 by teachers using corporal punishment in Quranic schools,” Seibert said.