For “Koranic schools,” will law enforcement look the other way, in spite of their being fronts for racketeering?
DAKAR, Senegal (Reuters) — In a dirty white T-shirt hanging down to his knees, 4-year-old Harouna Balde begs for coins in bare feet among the traffic on the polluted streets of Dakar.
Holding a rusty begging tin that is the trademark of the “talibes” — students at Senegal’s Koranic schools — Balde says he must take back money or face a beating from his religious teacher, or marabout.
“I must bring back 500 francs ($0.90) every day to my master or face punishment,” says the tiny boy. He travels from his squalid daara, or religious school, in the distant suburb of Thiaroye to beg all day in the city center.
Balde is one of an estimated 100,000 children begging on the streets of Senegal, according to U.N. officials — most of them sent out by their religious teachers.
100,000 children, if they’re all compelled to bring in money like young Balde’s 90 cents a day, are making someone an impressive amount of money, even by Western standards. One has to wonder what it’s being spent on.
Now, the booming industry has become so successful that children are smuggled from neighboring Mali, Gambia or Mauritania to beg in Dakar, U.N. child agency UNICEF said. Balde was separated from his parents in Guinea Bissau.
“The problem is mushrooming,” said Jean-Claude Legrand, West and Central Africa child protection officer with UNICEF, in an interview ahead of Friday’s Day of the African Child.
“The issue of begging children in Senegal is becoming a sub-regional child trafficking problem.”
Every year thousands of children are smuggled across West Africa, UNICEF says. Many end up as victims of forced labor, sexual abuse and prostitution.