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Rights Groups Demand End to Schoolchildren's Begging



For VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report.

Thousands of young people in Senegal attend and live at religious schools called daaras. These schools accept only boys. The students are called talibe' and they study the Koran. Some daaras force students to ask strangers on the street for money and food. The government had promised to stop this forced begging by 2015. But the organization Human Rights Watch says there has been little progress.

Recently, a government study found that more than 30,000 students were begging in Dakar, the capital. The boys were reported to be as young as four years old. They are often walking the streets shoeless and in torn, old clothes. Matt Wells is a West African researcher for Human Rights Watch. He says the boys must bring back a required amount of money, sugar and rice or face punishment. He says teachers will often severely beat talibe' who fail to meet the demand. He also says the boys usually are hungry, live in dirty, overcrowded rooms, and receive very little real education.

In March 2013, eight talibe' died in a fire in Dakar. Neighbors said they knew the children could not escape from the school building in which they were living. After the fire, Senegalese officials promised to take steps against child begging. But, Human Rights Watch says the government has closed only one daara for safety reasons. HRW says there are hundreds more that violate students' rights. Senegal's Ministry of Justice says it knows of the problems and is working on new legislation. But a ministry official notes there is cultural resistance to laws restricting religion.