Decade of abuse on Quranic schools in Senegal: HRW
April 21, Dakar: Senegal has prosecuted only a handful of cases involving children who are trafficked and forced to beg by abusive teachers in Quranic schools despite a decade-old law outlawing the practice, Human Rights Watch and the Platform for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (PPDH), a coalition of 40 Senegalese organizations, said today.
Tens of thousands of children face rampant abuse and exploitation despite the 2005 law, the groups said. Social workers, government officials, and activists Human Rights Watch interviewed in January 2015 said they believe the number of boys, known as talibé, enduring abuse in the Quranic schools, which are not regulated, is increasing, with more and younger children affected. A 2014 government census of daaras, or Quranic schools, found over 30,000 boys subjected to forced begging in the Dakar region alone.
“Over the last decade, tens of thousands of children have been exploited in the name of education, beaten by their so-called teachers, and subjected to horrific conditions in schools that have no business operating,” said Mamadou Wane, PPDH president. “The message government is sending, by its failure to investigate and prosecute the people behind these abuses, is that the lives of these children are not worth protecting.”
Several state and non-state social workers and activists noted that over the last year the situation has deteriorated. One social worker who has worked with talibés for five years said exploited children are now being forced to bring back even higher daily quotas from begging and are exploited not only by their teacher but also often by his wife, teaching assistants, and older talibés.
Over two weeks in January 2015, Human Rights Watch interviewed 9 talibés as well as 21 government officials, child welfare workers, social workers, religious leaders, parents, and Quranic school teachers to assess the extent of the abuse and progress on bringing the abusers to justice. The talibés, ages 5 to 15, were interviewed in Dakar and Saint-Louis, one of Senegal’s largest cities and a center for Quranic learning in the north. Hundreds of other children were observed begging on the streets and living in squalid daaras. This research builds on 2010 and 2014 Human Rights Watch research into the practice of forced begging in Senegal.
The boys described regular beatings with rubber whips, pieces of wood, and unraveled rope by their Quranic teacher and his assistants. An 8-year-old told Human Rights Watch that he was one of several boys repeatedly forced into a room, stripped, held down, and beaten across the torso with a strip of car tire for extended periods. Many other children in this and other daaras were visibly suffering from infected wounds and skin diseases and complained also of gastrointestinal illness. None of the students interviewed received any medical treatment in their Quranic schools nor did their Quranic teachers pay for medical treatment elsewhere.
On a Saint-Louis street at night, Human Rights Watch found several boys, one as young as 8, sleeping on the street under a thin nylon sheet inside a makeshift tent of tattered rice bags and driftwood. Several of the boys had recently run away from Quranic schools after being repeatedly beaten by their abusive teachers.
“There is simply no excuse for the Senegalese authorities’ failure to implement their own laws in favor of protecting these vulnerable children, all the more so when the abuse is so openly on display for all to see,” said Mamadou Ndiaye, PPDH coordinator and activist.
The long tradition of sending boys to study at Quranic boarding schools in Senegal is rooted in positive values of religious and moral education, and there are many legitimate Quranic schools that ensure the well-being of their students and provide religious education, the groups said.
Parents often send children to learn the Quran at boarding schools where, in their absence, Quranic teachers become de facto guardians. However, thousands of so-called teachers use religious education as a cover for economic exploitation of the children in their charge, with no fear of being investigated or prosecuted.
The government should act immediately to remove children from abusive and dangerous daaras and enforce laws that protect children from forced begging, violence, and neglect, the groups said. After meaningful and transparent consultation, the National Assembly should pass a draft law regulating Quranic schools, and the government should ensure adequate resources to implement the law.
“The abuse being meted out by these so-called teachers is on display every day and in plain view for all to see, and yet the police and judiciary have consistently failed to open investigations and hold them to account,” said Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The suffering of the talibé is a blind spot in Senegalese society.”
The Oslo Times and Human Rights Watch