By Polly Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
DAKAR, Senegal – The arrest and convictions yesterday of seven Koranic teachers who forced their students to beg is a huge step forward for children’s rights, Human Rights Watch said.
Though Senegal outlawed begging in 2005, the recent crackdown marks the first time the law has seriously been put into effect. A letter from the United States Embassy threatening to sever aid if Senegal does not curb human trafficking and pressure from other international donors forced the country to take immediate action. In 2009, Senegal received more than eighty-five million dollars in economic aid from the United States. The country is expected to receive hundreds of millions of dollars more through the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation. But it is unclear by how much the aid would be lessened if Senegal does not take steps to improve its human trafficking problems.
The practice of begging is widespread throughout Senegal. Young boys, known as talibés, are entrusted to their Koranic teachers and are then exploited and abused. The boys, ranging from four to twelve years old, are forced to beg on the streets for long hours, seven days a week.
In April 2010, Human Rights Watch documented the abuse that the boys were subjected to, which included severe beatings and cases in which children had been chained and bound for failing to hand over the fruits of their begging.
Defense lawyers at trial argued that it has always been tradition that Koranic teachers make their pupils beg, and that the State had always tolerated the offense. The accused, six Senegalese and one from Guinea-Bissau, in addition to receiving jail sentences, were fined one hundred thousand francs.
However, the teachers will only get their jail time if they force children to beg within the next six months.
The actions taken by the country are encouraging, said Human Rights Watch.
“The arrest and conviction of these men represents a welcome step toward ending the exploitation of vulnerable children under the guise of supposed religious education,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Senegalese government should continue prosecuting abusers while at the same time ensuring that the boys are safely returned to their families.”
For more information, please see:
Asia One – Seven Koranic teachers sentenced for making pupils beg – 8 September 2010
BBC – Senegal teachers convicted over children’s begging – 8 September 2010
Human Rights Watch – Senegal: Abusive Teachers Sentenced – 8 September 2010
United Press International – HRW lauds sentencing of Senegal teachers – 8 September 2010
Washington Post – US pressure leads to ban on beggars in Dakar – 8 September 2010