Report: Senegal Failing to Prevent Rampant Abuse and Torture at Islamic Schools

A street child known as 'Talibes' sleeps in a street in Dakar on April 16, 2010. At least 50,000 children attending hundreds of residential Quranic schools, or daaras, in Senegal are subjected to conditions akin to slavery and forced to endure often extreme forms of abuse, neglect, and exploitation by …
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Senegal has failed to prevent the rampant abuse of thousands of children and teenagers at many of the country’s Quranic schools, according to a report released on Monday by Human Rights Watch.

The in-depth report, titled These Children Don’t Belong in the Streets’: A Roadmap for Ending Abuse, Exploitation of Talibés in Senegal, is an analysis of the Senegalese government’s pledge to end the abuses, which take place in Islamic education centers known as “daaras.”

After studying the government’s policy, programming, and judicial efforts, the report found that the government had been grossly negligent in their attempts to prevent the abuse of over 100,000 children, known as “talibés,” in these Quranic schools.

Having done extensive research since 2017, investigators found that in many cases children attending such schools are forced to beg on the streets for money until they meet a certain quota. If they fail to do so, they can face punishments such as beatings, locking them in chains, and even withholding food.

“Talibé children have been openly and tragically neglected, exploited, and abused, and the government simply has not done enough to stop it,” said Corinne Dufka, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to take bold, concrete, and sustained actions to end the suffering many children endure in Senegal’s daaras.”

Public outcry over the abuse rose significantly last month after photos of underweight children begging or being locked up in chains circulated on social media. Although some religious leaders were outraged after the arrest of those responsible for that institution, the outcry has led to further pressure being placed on the government to be accountable and take responsibility for such abuses.

Over the past decade, Senegalese lawmakers have passed various laws to protect children by outlawing abuse and willful neglect of children, wrongful imprisonment, endangerment, and human trafficking. However, the report found authorities are still far too slow in taking the necessary steps to end the abuses, with just 25 Quranic teachers or their assistants convicted of such crimes since 2017.

“The abuses going on in many daaras are out of control, yet the government delays taking action,” said Issa Kouyate, member of the Platform for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (PPDH) and director of a children’s refuge in the city of Saint-Louis. “Talibés have suffered enough. It’s high time for change.”

Horrific abuse of children is also taking place in other parts of Africa, including Nigeria, where similar Islamic “boarding schools” have been compared to “torture chambers.” Human rights analysts estimate that around 10 million children could be in the hands of these institutions in Nigeria, although that number is expected as the government prioritizes their closure and the prosecution of those responsible.

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