The region also has the highest rate (23%) of primary school-age children who have either never attended school or left school without completing a primary education.
Even when children are enrolled in school, many do not receive the education they deserve. An article in The Guardian highlights the ongoing problem of children in Senegal who are enrolled in certain Qur’anic schools, but who don’t receive an education. Sent by their parents to learn from religious leaders called ‘marabouts’, the children are forced out onto the streets to beg for money which they earn for their religious teachers. The practice stems from the Muslim religious pillar of charity-giving; Muslims in Senegal give money to children begging on the street believing they will be rewarded for their charity.
However, some marabouts have perverted this charitable act by using hundreds of children to collect money for them. According to Human Rights Watch, some marabouts can make up to 100,000 dollars a year through this practice. It’s also common for them to abuse and mistreat the children collecting for them, who are known as talibés.
Speaking to The Guardian’s reporter, one young talibé says his marabout beats him if he doesn’t bring in enough money. Another 12 year-old was brought to Senegal from Guinea-Bissau by a marabout who was a friend of his family. However, after a year on the streets of the capital, Dakar, the boy explains that he and his brother fled to a shelter. “We were sent to the [Qur’anic school] to learn the Qur’an, but instead, we learned how to beg.”
In 2005, Senegal passed a law prohibiting people from making a profit from children in this way. In 2010, seven marabouts were convicted of forcing boys in their care to beg and were given a large fine and a six-month suspended sentence. But since then, the law has rarely been upheld, because religious leaders in Senegal have huge influence over the political establishment.
However, human rights organisations and development agencies working in the country are pinning their hopes on a new curriculum and modernisation plan for the education sector. This will bring religious schools into the formal education system. The hope is that officials will then be able to check that children are learning in Qur’anic schools, rather than begging on the streets, and ensure that youngsters are not being mistreated. Otherwise, the practice of exploiting children to beg on the streets of Senegal will no doubt continue.
Watch a video on Our Africa exploring what life is like for children on the street in Senegal.