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“There Is Enormous Suffering” – Serious Abuses Against Talibé Children in Senegal, 2017-2018 Languages

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“There Is Enormous Suffering” – Serious Abuses Against Talibé Children in Senegal, 2017-2018 Languages

11th June 2019

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Dusty, dirty, and often-barefooted boys holding empty tomato cans or plastic bowls as they beg for money remain a common sight in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, and in many other cities across the country. Most of them are current or runaway talibés – Quranic students –  sent to live and study at traditional Quranic schools known as daaras. Despite periodic moments of increased but inconsistent government attention to their plight, the number of talibé children subjected to forced begging and other serious abuses by their Quranic teachers remains staggering.

Based on existing data, Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 100,000 talibés living in residential daaras across Senegal are forced by their Quranic teachers, also known as marabouts, to beg daily for money, food, rice or sugar. Thousands of these children live in conditions of extreme squalor, denied sufficient food and medical care. Many are also subject to physical abuse amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment.

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After fleeing his daara in 2018 to escape abuse, a 9-year-old talibé told Human Rights Watch: “The daily [begging] quota [set by the marabout ] was 500 francs CFA [US$0.90]… I didn’t like the daara because they hit us all the time – if we didn’t memorize the verses of the Quran, or if we didn’t bring money. At the daara, they beat you until you think you will die.”

Government officials have repeatedly pledged to address the problem over the years, including by rolling out two phases of a Dakar-focused program to “remove the children from the streets” in June 2016 and March 2018. However, these efforts have had limited impact, failing to reach the thousands of talibés begging in other regions across the country. Sustained commitment by the Senegalese authorities to stop the forced begging and abuse, ensure justice, and protect talibés has proven elusive. 

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This report documents scores of serious abuses committed against talibé children by Quranic teachers or their assistants in 2017 and 2018, including deaths, beatings, sexual abuse, chaining and imprisonment, and numerous forms of neglect and endangerment. The abuses took place in at least eight of Senegal’s 14 administrative regions (Dakar, Diourbel, Fatick, Kaolack, Louga, Saint-Louis, Tambacounda, and Thiès); a Human Rights Watch researcher visited four of these regions: Dakar, Diourbel, Louga and Saint-Louis.

Report by the Human Rights Watch

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