Photos: Exploitation and abuse confront Senegal’s young talibes

Families across Senegal have long enrolled their children in schools called daaras to learn Islamic scripture and build character. Historically, part of that teaching included begging for food to instill humility. In recent decades, some rights groups say the school children, called talibes, have at times been kept by marabouts in dire conditions, forced to beg for money and beaten if they do not come back with enough. There are no safeguards for children who escape and find themselves alone on the streets and vulnerable.

Updated On Feb 26, 2019 12:26 PM IST 11 Photos
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A Quran student, called a talibe, eats as he begs in front of a hotel in Saint-Louis, Senegal. An eight-year-old boy fled his Quranic school in Saint-Louis, Senegal this month after he said a teacher threatened to beat him for not earning enough money begging on the street. Hours later, alone in the corner of a low-lit bus station, he was raped by a teenager. (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

A Quran student, called a talibe, eats as he begs in front of a hotel in Saint-Louis, Senegal. An eight-year-old boy fled his Quranic school in Saint-Louis, Senegal this month after he said a teacher threatened to beat him for not earning enough money begging on the street. Hours later, alone in the corner of a low-lit bus station, he was raped by a teenager. (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 26, 2019 12:26 PM IST
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The child was rescued by a local non-profit called Maison de la Gare that patrols Saint-Louis at night battling what has become a deep-rooted problem in Senegalese cities: thousands of young boys sent to religious schools end up begging on the streets, or worse. “These things are still shocking, even when it is the tenth or fifteenth time you see them,” said Maison de la Gare’s founder, Issa Kouyate. (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

The child was rescued by a local non-profit called Maison de la Gare that patrols Saint-Louis at night battling what has become a deep-rooted problem in Senegalese cities: thousands of young boys sent to religious schools end up begging on the streets, or worse. “These things are still shocking, even when it is the tenth or fifteenth time you see them,” said Maison de la Gare’s founder, Issa Kouyate. (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 26, 2019 12:26 PM IST
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Omar Wone, 8, from Futa and a talibe, sits on the floor of the daara where he lives and learns Quran in Saint-Louis. Many daaras are free from problems of abuse. Success in a daara and strong knowledge of the Quran can lead to a prestigious position as an Imam or a Quranic teacher, known as a marabout. (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Omar Wone, 8, from Futa and a talibe, sits on the floor of the daara where he lives and learns Quran in Saint-Louis. Many daaras are free from problems of abuse. Success in a daara and strong knowledge of the Quran can lead to a prestigious position as an Imam or a Quranic teacher, known as a marabout. (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 26, 2019 12:26 PM IST
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Moussa, a talibe, from Futa, carries a bucket of water to take a shower at Maison de la Gare. In recent decades, some rights groups say the talibes have at times been kept by marabouts in dire conditions, forced to beg for money and beaten if they do not come back with enough. There are no safeguards for children who escape and find themselves alone on the streets, they say. (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Moussa, a talibe, from Futa, carries a bucket of water to take a shower at Maison de la Gare. In recent decades, some rights groups say the talibes have at times been kept by marabouts in dire conditions, forced to beg for money and beaten if they do not come back with enough. There are no safeguards for children who escape and find themselves alone on the streets, they say. (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 26, 2019 12:26 PM IST
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Amadou, 7, looks at a woman as he begs outside a shop. The ill-treatment of talibes was a largely taboo subject, but awareness campaigns have slowly provoked debate. President Macky Sall in 2016 launched a plan ordering the removal of children from the streets and said those who force them to beg would be jailed. About 300 hundred were helped by the program in 2018, government figures show. (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Amadou, 7, looks at a woman as he begs outside a shop. The ill-treatment of talibes was a largely taboo subject, but awareness campaigns have slowly provoked debate. President Macky Sall in 2016 launched a plan ordering the removal of children from the streets and said those who force them to beg would be jailed. About 300 hundred were helped by the program in 2018, government figures show. (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 26, 2019 12:26 PM IST
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A talibe at Maison de la Gare. The writing on the wall reads: “No to running away from responsibility, the child is a human being and has rights.” The government has set up a free hotline to report cases of child abuse. “These are our children, and we are trying to involve everyone in protecting them,” said Alioune Sarr, head of Child Protection in the Senegalese government. (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

A talibe at Maison de la Gare. The writing on the wall reads: “No to running away from responsibility, the child is a human being and has rights.” The government has set up a free hotline to report cases of child abuse. “These are our children, and we are trying to involve everyone in protecting them,” said Alioune Sarr, head of Child Protection in the Senegalese government. (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 26, 2019 12:26 PM IST
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Bassirou Toure, 6, takes part in an entertainment program in the courtyard of Maison de la Gare. Two of the five candidates in the recent presidential election, Ousmane Sonko and Issa Sall, said their programs include measures to regulate the daaras system and end child begging. Human Rights Watch says over 100,000 children are still sent out to beg. (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Bassirou Toure, 6, takes part in an entertainment program in the courtyard of Maison de la Gare. Two of the five candidates in the recent presidential election, Ousmane Sonko and Issa Sall, said their programs include measures to regulate the daaras system and end child begging. Human Rights Watch says over 100,000 children are still sent out to beg. (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 26, 2019 12:26 PM IST
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Bassirou said his day at the daara ran from 0600 to 2300. Of that, five hours were spent learning the Quran and 12 were spent begging. “When we don’t manage to have enough money to come back to sleep at the daara, we sleep on the streets to avoid being beaten up,” he said. “I’m very angry at my parents for leaving me there alone.” (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Bassirou said his day at the daara ran from 0600 to 2300. Of that, five hours were spent learning the Quran and 12 were spent begging. “When we don’t manage to have enough money to come back to sleep at the daara, we sleep on the streets to avoid being beaten up,” he said. “I’m very angry at my parents for leaving me there alone.” (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 26, 2019 12:26 PM IST
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Abdel Rahman, 20, a former talibe, who became a karate coach at Maison de la Gare. “I have myself experienced the pain of being sent to the streets to beg. Karate helped me a lot, now it’s my turn to help others get out,” Rahman said. “I’m one of them and they trust me. I urge them to participate in a local championship. It’s one of the ways to reintegrate into society.” (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Abdel Rahman, 20, a former talibe, who became a karate coach at Maison de la Gare. “I have myself experienced the pain of being sent to the streets to beg. Karate helped me a lot, now it’s my turn to help others get out,” Rahman said. “I’m one of them and they trust me. I urge them to participate in a local championship. It’s one of the ways to reintegrate into society.” (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 26, 2019 12:26 PM IST
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Moussa stands inside a classroom of Maison de la Gare. In Saint-Louis, as in the capital Dakar, groups of children weave through traffic asking for money, wearing shorts and ragged football shirts bearing the names of their millionaire heroes. At Maison de la Gare, talibes can eat a sandwich, shower, wash their clothes and receive first aid assistance. There are opportunities to learn English and play sport. (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Moussa stands inside a classroom of Maison de la Gare. In Saint-Louis, as in the capital Dakar, groups of children weave through traffic asking for money, wearing shorts and ragged football shirts bearing the names of their millionaire heroes. At Maison de la Gare, talibes can eat a sandwich, shower, wash their clothes and receive first aid assistance. There are opportunities to learn English and play sport. (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 26, 2019 12:26 PM IST
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“I’m learning karate so I can defend myself,” said Demba, 8, who said he was once forced to stay out all night and beg, only to be robbed by a drunk man. After being away from home, Demba expressed mixed feelings about the family that sent him to the school in the first place. “I no longer feel anything towards my parents,” he said. “I don’t even know if I’m angry at them or not.” (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

“I’m learning karate so I can defend myself,” said Demba, 8, who said he was once forced to stay out all night and beg, only to be robbed by a drunk man. After being away from home, Demba expressed mixed feelings about the family that sent him to the school in the first place. “I no longer feel anything towards my parents,” he said. “I don’t even know if I’m angry at them or not.” (Zohra Bensemra / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 26, 2019 12:26 PM IST
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