The Universal Declaration of Human Rights deems education one of the inalienable rights for human beings, under Article 26(1), which states that “everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory.” According to the 2014 Human Rights Watch report on “Exploitation in the Name of Education”, which details the uneven progress in ending forced child begging in Senegal, not only the right to education, but many other rights, are being denied to thousands of school-aged boys. In Quranic schools across the African nation, boys as young as six are being exploited under the guise of getting an education. In these schools, they are forced to live in unsanitary conditions, are subject to forced begging, and are abused near daily.
As stated by the report, late on March 3rd, 2013, a fire erupted in the Dakar neighborhood of Medina. It is detailed that flames fully engulfed a Quranic boarding school, housed in a makeshift shack, where eight young boys at the school were burned to death. This is only the beginning of the inhospitable living conditions that these young boys are forced into, as the report goes on to claim that Quranic teachers often open schools in dilapidated shacks or abandoned houses that are completely unfit for living, particularly for young children. In such poor living conditions, diseases, such as skin infections and malaria, are rampant and spread more easily by overcrowding in the schools. The boys are often left to seek treatment on their own, without the help of their “teachers”. Additionally, there is no electricity or water in the majority of these schools, and the boys use the same dirt floor as both a toilet and a place to bathe. They sleep on the concrete floor or on thin mats in rooms that are normally pitch black at all times of the day. Without windows or doors, the place routinely floods during the rainy season, leaving the area in prime condition for mosquito breeding. The conditions of Quranic schools in Senegal violate a number of articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but most obviously Article 25(1), which outlines that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
Article 4 of the Declaration blatantly states that “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”. Despite this, thousands of boys at certain Quranic schools spend the majority of their day begging on the streets of Senegal’s cities. Detailed in the Human Rights Watch report, in the worst schools, the boys are “systematically beaten if they fail to return with a set amount of money”. On top of the fear of such harsh punishment, students are required to bring in insane amounts of money to meet their quota: somewhere between 150 and 500 francs CFA ($.60 to $1). With dozens of boys working for them seven days a week, these Quranic “teachers” amass earnings “well beyond what a mid-level government official – much less the average resident of Senegal – makes”. These actions are not only in direct violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but Senegal’s 2005 law, Law No. 2005-06, which “criminalizes trafficking and profiting from forcing another person to beg”.
As if it were not enough to deal with inhumane living conditions and be subject to illegal forced begging, the majority of Quranic students also suffer from severe instances of abuse, and often torture. When they fail to bring back the daily quota, the punishment is “swift and fierce,” according to the report, “with the teacher often meting out brutal beatings”. Many boys describe their overriding feeling as one of “fear — fear of the punishment they will face if they fail to collect the demanded money quota”. This implicating situation is evidence of a clear violation of Article 5 of the Declaration, which decrees that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
However, despite these clear violations and the media attention that has been drawn to the situation, little can be done until the Senegalese government revises the statutes against forced begging that are already in place to protect children, and invests more time and effort into training their police force to recognize the signs of such shams of “schools.”