Urgent Need to Move on Alms Redistribution Plans to Get Begging ‘Taalibe’ Children out of Senegal’s Streets

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Taalibe begging

‘Taalibe’ Qur’anic school students flood the streets with begging cans to collect their daily sums of money to turn over to their instructors. Children who fail to reach the daily quota may face beatings and incur debts (Credit S. Thiam 2007).

Up to 50,000 taalibe Qur’anic students, mostly children aged 5-15, are begging for hours on end in Senegal’s streets everyday. In 2010, Human Rights Watch shamed the national government for its inaction on the issue with a scathing report about the stomach-churning abuses that the taalibe (also talibé) children suffer at the hands of their Qur’anic masters who live off of their begging revenues. In addition to infringing upon on their human rights, the taalibes’ extensive begging and their crammed, unsanitary living conditions have been associated with numerous health and developmental risks, including malnutrition, high rates of infectious diseases, risks of street life including traffic accidents and exposure to violence and drugs, psychological suffering due to their separation from families and communities, and a lack of adequate education (see Thiam 2013).

This transnational attention to the issue in 2010 pushed the administration of then President Abdoulaye Wade to ban begging in public spaces in Dakar. On the day it was enacted, police lined the streets, begging children were rounded up in shelters, and eight Qur’anic masters were jailed. Opposition media and a national collective representing over 700 Qur’anic master associations effectively pressured the president to reverse the ban, claiming that without the population’s generous alms, the long-standing religious educational institution would not survive. A short six weeks later, the ban was repealed and the accused were released with token fines. Instead of outright banning begging, President Wade announced plans to implement an alms “mutualization” scheme to keep children out of the streets by redirecting donations to recipient institutions. The proposal calmed the raging national debates on the issue, but unsurprising to most, no further action was taken before the president left office. In 2013, current president Maky Sall, in a public response to a devastating fire that killed nine taalibes in their makeshift Dakar shack, indignantly pledged to prosecute exploiters and pursue a similar public policy to redirect alms. Again, three years later, there has been no change. Drawing valuable lessons from these political events and their fruitless outcomes, concerned local and transnational actors must join together to pressure Senegal’s political leaders and Qur’anic masters to find a workable giving redistribution scheme they can agree on, sooner rather than later, to get the thousands of begging taalibe children out of the streets and into schools.

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One Response to “Urgent Need to Move on Alms Redistribution Plans to Get Begging ‘Taalibe’ Children out of Senegal’s Streets”

  1. Asha Says:

    Thank you for sharing this post. This is a global child health issue. In Brazil, while its not considered begging, children spend all day downtown from their neighboring favelas and aggressively sell home made souvenirs and jewelry, undoubtedly from the persuasion of their elders. In general the UN and world leaders have to become more proactive and innovative to reduce child labor and abuse, whether it is, begging, sweat shops or child trafficking our leaders must do more.

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