Young beggars in Dakar. Photo posted on Flickr by tayba_2000.

The Senegalese government has launched an aggressive campaign to root out begging from the streets of Dakkar. Its main targets are Koranic schools, most of which depend on donations their pupils collect on the street.

In Senegal, a law banning begging was voted under Leopold Sédar Senghor’s presidency, but never really enforced. Things changed, however, after Prime Minister Ndéné Ndiaye warned in a speech on August 24 that soliciting money from passers-by would no longer be tolerated. Seven Koranic teachers were arrested for inciting their pupils to panhandle in the street.

According to Human Rights Watch, tens if not thousands of children aged 2 to 17 are forced to beg for money, rice and sugar to finance their Koranic schools, a practice the NGO has described as a modern form of slavery. The marabouts [Islamic religious teachers] who direct Islamic schools have justified the practice, saying that charity (zakat) is one of the pillars of Islam.

The little beggars are back already...

Guejopaal Gnane took these photos on Friday, Sept. 3, in the neighbourhood of Assainies, in Darkar. It seems that, despite the recent crackdown, little child beggars from Koranic schools still roam the streets.

"A ban on begging without tackling the roots of the problem won’t work"

Guejopaal Gnane is a Philosophy professor in Dakar. He spoke to a marabout in a Koranic school (dara) in the neighbourhood of Assainies.

Video published on YouTube by guejopaalgnane on September 1, 2010.

The dara I visited was extremely poor. About 50 students live there, cramped into six nine-square-metre bedrooms. They sleep on the floor. Everything is filthy. In the video I took, you can see greenish puddles in the courtyard. I was really quite shocked by what I saw.

I don’t know where the talibe (Koranic school pupils) of this dara were from, but I got the feeling they’re mostly abandoned children, that very poor families handed over to the marabout.

"The little beggars will disappear from the city centre for a bit, then come back"

Of course, the marabout told me that he is opposed to the begging ban announced by the government. According to him, you can’t remove the dara’s main source of income without providing an alternative solution. He told me that he had no choice and would continue sending his students into the streets. I imagine that, for a certain time at least, the little beggars will disappear from the city centre. But I’m sure they’ll come back.

The authorities have to understand that, in Dakar, most talibe have no choice other than to beg. It’s true that marabouts shouldn’t open schools if they don’t have the money to provide for their students. But at the same time, that’s the way things are for now. Forbidding begging without attacking the roots of the problem just won’t work.

"International donors are obsessed with child labour, but here it is considered normal"

The government decided to crack down on begging because it was under pressure from international donors, notably the United States, who fund poverty relief programmes but don’t see any real changes on the ground. It’s true that I can’t really name a single effective anti-poverty policy launched by the government. That being said, I don’t think the position of international donors is very realistic. They’re obsessed with child labour, but here it is a normal part of life. In my village, the children of daras don’t beg, but they work in the fields. Unfortunately, it’s a necessity.

My fear is: will this kind of measure push moderate Islamic schools to adopt a more radical religious and moral stance? "