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In Senegal Rights groups hail new steps to protect street children

The children are from a mix of poor or homeless families. Many are "talibes" -- boys enrolled at Koranic schools who are sent out to beg by their tutors.

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child beggars play

Rights groups recently hailed Senegal's steps to get child beggars, who often face beatings and sexual abuse, off the streets


 A new initiative by Senegal to get child beggars off the streets was hailed Thursday by rights organisations, who also called for a legal crackdown on those who exploit the young.

The government's action to remove children from the streets, "including those forced to beg by their Koranic teachers... is an important step in reforming a deeply entrenched system of exploitation," Human Rights Watch and a coalition of 40 Senegalese children's rights groups said in a statement.

The children are from a mix of poor or homeless families. Many are "talibes" -- boys enrolled at Koranic schools who are sent out to beg by their tutors.

During the first half of this year, at least five children living in Koranic schools died, allegedly from beatings by their teachers or in traffic accidents while out begging, the groups said.

They noted a pattern of beatings and sexual abuse against the talibes, typically boys between five and 15.

"Talibes have suffered abuses and dangers that no child should ever have to face," said Corinne Dufka, HRW's West Africa director.

"While the government's recent actions are commendable, removing talibes from the streets will not lead to long-term change unless Koranic schools are regulated and offending teachers are held accountable," she added.

On June 30, Senegalese President Mack Sall ordered the sweep of children begging in the streets, sending them to transit centres before being returned to their parents.

By mid-July authorities had removed more than 300 children, including many talibes, from the streets of Dakar, the rights groups noted.

And while there has been a slight increase this year in the arrests of alleged abusive teachers at the Koranic schools, there have been few prosecutions and none over forced begging, the groups added.

"Senegal should prioritize adoption of the currently stalled draft law to regulate Koranic schools, which would impose universal standards and eliminate begging," the groups' statement said.

However, the head of the national federation of Koranic schools, Mustapha Lo,  has protested that the street sweep was taken without consulting Muslim educators and downplayed the concerns relayed by children's charities.

"The majority of us manage our Koranic schools without making the children beg on the streets. Some Koranic teachers do that because they lack any other financial means," Lo said.

In the Dakar region there are 1,006 Koranic schools with nearly 55,000 talibes, including more than 30,000 who beg, according to an official inquiry in 2014.

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