Religion and The Rights of the Child

Photo courtesy of April Muniz

Photo courtesy of April Muniz.
Talibes often travel together in search of alms.

They are all over Senegal: young boys aged 5 to 18 years, walking around in tattered clothing, carrying tomato cans and asking for money or sugar, swarming market streets and public transportation garages.

They are talibes, or children sent to a marabout to learn the Koran.  Some are taken care of by their marabout and the community, or do field work in rural areas, but the vast majority of urban talibes are forced to spend their days on the street begging to earn a daily financial quota that they must immediately turn over.   They live in crowded rooms with questionable hygiene and nutrition.

Begging puts talibes at an increased risk of traffic injuries, abuse, disease, and further exploitation. This is especially serious in Dakar where there are an estimated 8,000-10,000 talibes, and over 50,000 across the entire country.

Photo courtesy of Casey McConnell.Talibes wander between buses and cars in search of alms at public garages.

Photo courtesy of Casey McConnell.
Talibes wander between buses and cars in search of alms at public garages.

The Senegalese government officially banned forced begging in 2005 but has largely looked the other way because Islamic brotherhoods hold a lot of power in the country.  In 2010, there was a small-scale campaign and arrest of a few marabouts for the practice, but little has been done since.  Human Rights Watch also released a report detailing the issue.

The government needs to work with the leadership of the brotherhoods to prevent this practice and uphold both national law and the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child.  Women’s groups in the country should be encouraged to “adopt” the talibes in their neighborhoods to make sure that they are able to actually be children.

Photo courtesy of Beth Lang

Photo courtesy of Beth Lang.
A talibe reads from the Koran.

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