Thousands of boys forced to beg by religious schools in Senegal

It is a fact of life for tens of thousands of talibés in this predominantly Muslim country — young boys who live in religious schools called daaras, away from their families and far from home.

It is a common tradition across west Africa for parents to send their sons to these schools to learn the Quran. But daaras are not regulated by the government in Senegal, and while conditions vary, many boys wind up living in extreme squalor, forced to beg for most of their waking hours, and beaten if they do not meet a quota of money, rice or sugar set by their Quranic teacher, who is called a marabout.

Beaten by his teacher

Mamadou thinks he is 10 years old, but he’s not sure. He was sent by his family from a rural part of Senegal to Saint Louis, a city in the northern part of the country, when he was just five. He lives with about 40 other boys in a daara that sits atop a garbage dump. The makeshift home is a partially constructed cinder block structure, without a roof. He says his marabout beats him if he doesn’t meet his quota of 300 CFA, the equivalent of 50 cents, every single day, in a country where a third of people live below the poverty line.
Mamadou, on the far left, with other talibés at the garbage dump which houses his Quranic school, in a part of Saint Louis called Darou.

“If he beats us today, tomorrow when we go begging if we don’t bring home raw rice, he’ll beat us again,” Mamadou tells CNN. “We are forced.”

Mamadou’s marabout, Mamadou Alassane Diallo, denies beating boys who don’t meet their quota.

But he admits that he forces them to beg.

“Yes, it is required for them to beg because I don’t have the…

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