Many families send their children to Quranic schools, called daaras, in Senegal for free religious teaching. Although the daaras are free, they are also unregulated by the government which has created problems for the students in the daaras. These young students sent to daaras are referred to as talibés and often they are mostly young boys. While the intention behind the schools and opportunity for free religious teaching and housing is often seen as a benefit to both parents and youth alike, the reality in Senegal is that tens of thousands of children are exploited and forced to beg on the streets. Despite these gross violations of human rights, we want to point out that there are still many legitimate Quranic schools that ensure the wellbeing of their students and provide religious education. However, we wan to take this time to explore the issue and mistreatment of the talibés further.

Talibés are expected to bring back daily quotas, often only slightly lower than the average daily wage of the country (est. USD $4)[1]. According to a report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 2015, abusive Quranic schools operate as businesses. Marabouts (religious teachers) often force talibés to bring back their quota of money, rice and sugar for resale, and often inflict immense physical and psychological abuse on talibés who fail to meet the quotas. As punishment, children are frequently chained, bound, and forced into unsafe conditions. They are subject to beatings, molestation, and torture by their teachers, teachers’ wives, teaching assistants, and occasionally other talibés. This issue even extends beyond Senegal’s borders because a large number of the talibés are also children who are trafficked into the daaras from neighboring countries such as Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Mali and The Gambia.[2]

The HRW report notes that despite a 2005 law passed in Senegal to ban unregulated daaras from the forced begging of their students and an anti-trafficking law, little has changed since then and the number talibés is actually increasing. HRW states that there are ”an estimated “30,000 boys subjected to forced begging in the Dakar region alone.”[3] Beyond the obvious violations of the talibes’ human rights the consequences of forced begging, abuse, and mistreatment lead to more children turning to the streets. Often the children do not return to their homes because they fear they will be sent back to the daaras from which they have escaped. While on the street, children are still subject to many dangers including gang violence and recruitment, as well as physical and sexual abuse. This problem for the talibés of mistreatment, exploitation, and forced begging is not to be ignored and should be of serious concern for the country and international community.

A report written by Catherine Turner and published by Anti-Slavery International in 2011, goes into detail about conditions talibés face, cause and effect of the situation, the legal framework, and recommendations for addressing the issue. As mentioned above, Turner also notes that this problem is not simply a cause of Quranic schooling but rather a complex set of factors that have led to the increase in forced begging and human rights abuses. She outlines some of the causes as an effect of increased poverty and inequality, increased migration to urban centers, unquestioning trust in religious leaders, and a failure of state education to be accessible and sufficient for its population.

Although legislation has been introduced to combat the issue, there have been few instances of prosecutions of marabouts responsible for forced begging. Tuner points out that “although there is currently no national regulatory framework or code of conduct for daaras in Senegal, the Government [under current President Wade] appears to support a harmonized State-run and/or regulated system of Quranic schooling and at the time of writing had take some steps towards creating one.”[4] Her report was released in 2011 and the HRW report referenced here came out in 2015, the time gap in these reports but the consistency of the issue demonstrate that tragically not much has changed. HRW declares that, “the lack of accountability, with the Senegalese state yet to play a regulatory role, may contribute to the rising number of boys enduring this abuse.”

We highly recommend taking a look at both reports referenced throughout this overview. They go into much more detail of the situation and further explore possible solutions for addressing the issue:

Additional related articles:

[1] “Senegal: Decade of Abuse in Quranic Schools.” Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch, 20 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 June 2016.

[2] Turner, Catherine. Rep. Anti-Slavery International, 2011. Web. 22 June 2016. (pg 2)

[3] “Senegal: Decade of Abuse in Quranic Schools.” Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch, 20 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 June 2016.

[4] Turner, Catherine. Rep. Anti-Slavery International, 2011. Web. 22 June 2016. (pg 12)