By Nangayi Guyson in Kampala Uganda – The Senegalese authority have sentenced Seven Koranic teachers to jail after they were found guilty of forcing children to beg.Up to 50,000 children are being exploited by their teachers in Koranic schools in Senegal
The accused, six Senegalese and one from Guinea-Bissau, were also fined 100 000 francs in what Human Rights Watch (HRW) said was the first ever application of a 2005 law outlawing the practice.’Mass trafficking
A tougher sentence may have been expected but Wednesday’s ruling is symbolic.
During the trial defence lawyers pleaded for leniency, arguing that according to tradition, Quranic teachers around the country have always made their pupils beg, and the state had previously tolerated the offence.
On August 25, the government banned begging in the streets of the capital, saying charity could only take place outside places of worship.
Police rounded up several children between the ages of 6 and 16 whose testimony led to the arrest of the seven religious teachers.
“This conviction is a first and it will have a resounding effect,” said Malik Fall, a lawyer for the accused.
A law was passed five years ago which criminalised the forcing of another person to beg but it was not enforced.
It was not until the end of last month that the police started rounding up beggars after a move by the authorities to clamp down on extremist Koranic masters who mistreat children in the name of religion.
Human Rights Watch says the latest ruling is a step in the right direction but there must be a sustained effort to tackle the problem.
According to the organisation, thousands of children are being trafficked between Senegal and neighbouring Guinea-Bissau.
However, “In our argument we emphasised the shortcomings of the State which has left Quranic education completely on the margins, without subsidy, without identification and without control,” said Fall.
In April, the New York-based organisation HRW said at least 50 000 boys, known as talibes were “forced to beg on Senegal’s streets for long hours, seven days a week, by often brutally abusive Quranic teachers, known as marabouts.”
According to HRW some children were often punished and beaten for failing to hand over a required daily amount from their begging or for trying to run away.
“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 HRW.
Dufka urged authorities to ensure the boys are adequately housed and cared for until they can be returned to their families
Two years ago, the UN Children’s Fund, Unicef, estimated that there were 8 000 children on the streets of Dakar.
However, the teachers will only go to prison if they force children to beg again within the next six months.