Rights group hits Senegal on Islamic schools
DAKAR, Senegal — A leading international rights group called on Senegal’s government yesterday to clamp down on Islamic schools whose leaders are subjecting tens of thousands of children to forced begging and daily beatings in conditions it says are “akin to slavery.’’
Powerful religious leaders known as “marabouts’’ hold enormous political influence in this mostly Muslim West African nation.
Parents often send their children to traditional Koranic schools run by marabouts, both because they hope their children will receive a religious education and because they are free.
But some marabouts have turned the schools into an exploitative, unregulated private industry, banking tens of thousands of dollars in annual profits by forcing droves of children as young as 4 into the streets to beg for change, according to a new report released by New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Children who return without enough money are often brutally beaten, the group said.
The boys can often be seen wandering barefoot in the capital, Dakar, in small groups without adult supervision, swarming cars and passersby. Often dressed in ragged, torn clothes, they beg long after midnight, returning to sleep 30 to a room in abandoned or half-constructed buildings that offer little protection from the elements, Human Rights Watch said.
One of them, 11-year-old Abdou Sow, told the Associated Press he had been sent by his parents in northern Senegal to a Koranic school in Dakar three years ago. He has spent most of his time since begging, and his marabout expects him to bring back at least 250 West African francs per day — about 50 cents — and “hits us a lot harder when we don’t give him enough.’’