DAKAR (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of children in Senegal are being exploited by Koranic teachers who force them to beg in the streets, Human Rights Watch said on Monday, blaming the government for failing to implement a law on forced begging.
Senegal passed a law in 2005 aimed at stopping the trafficking of children and their exploitation in thousands of Koranic schools. Only a dozen teachers have since been prosecuted.
A 2014 government census of the Islamic schools, or daaras, found that more than 30,000 children were being forced to beg in the capital Dakar alone. Some of the children, known as talibe, were obliged to bring in 2,000 CFA francs ($3) per day or face punishment. In Senegal, the minimum daily wage is $4 (2.69 pounds).
Human Rights Watch said abuses were widespread. Nine talibes aged between 5 and 15, interviewed by the rights watchdog in January, testified to regular beatings with rubber whips, wood and rope by their teacher and his assistants.
Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The suffering of the talibe is a blind spot in Senegalese society. Senegal has very strong laws but unfortunately they are not applied.”
President Macky Sall promised to close unsafe schools after nine children died in March 2013 in a fire at a daara in Dakar. Human Rights Watch said few schools had been closed.
Some parents in rural Senegal and neighboring Guinea-Bissau who lack the money to bring up their children send them to Koranic schools in Dakar.
In the Senegalese Muslim tradition, begging was aimed at teaching humility to children, whether their families were rich or poor. Rights campaigners say it has become a means for abusive teachers to grow rich by exploiting their wards.
“This is a social phenomenon. A law on its own cannot solve the entire problem,” said Mody Guirandou Ndiaye, an official from the Justice Ministry’s anti-trafficking unit.
Reporting by Diadie Ba; Writing by Daniel Flynn