And conditions at some of the Qur’anic schools or daaras are extremely poor, with large numbers of children sleeping in crowded quarters. At the school where nine talibés died last month, 45 boys were trapped in a small room of a wood-constructed building in the Medina district of the capital. Their marabout had locked them in for the night when he left. The fire is thought to have started when a candle was knocked over. Unable to escape, nine boys aged between seven and 12 years perished in the blaze.
Speaking after the event, President Macky Sall promised to shut down all Qur’anic schools which did not meet the required safety standards. In a Guardian article, the President is reported as saying that the government would start to identify such schools over the coming months.
The Senegalese government is also likely to unveil a new programme for regulating the education received at Qur’anic shools in order to halt the practice of children being sent to beg on the streets. Such a programme will be based on a drafted law designed to impose operating norms and standards on schools.
In 2005, a law prohibiting people from making a profit from children was passed in Senegal, but has rarely been enforced due to legal contradictions. According to a presidential adviser quoted in the Guardian, those who exploit children “take refuge behind article 245 of the penal code, which contradicts the 2005 law and states that soliciting alms as part of religious traditions is not an act of begging”.
The boys who died in the fire came from the Kolda region of Senegal, one of the poorest areas. Parents often take the opportunity of sending their children to the capital in order to have one less mouth to feed. As one measure to help counteract the reasons why boys are sent away from their families, the UN’s child agency, UNICEF, has been piloting a ‘cash transfer’ programme for impoverished parents. In addition, UNICEF is also funding a scheme to identify vulnerable children in urban centres and re-unite them with their families. These programmes, along with the Senegalese government’s new resolve on this issue, will hopefully prevent many young children suffering a harsh life on the streets in the future.Watch a video on Our Africa (visit http://www.our-africa.org/senegal/beggars) exploring what life is like for children on the street in Senegal.