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SENEGAL

Koranic teachers sentenced for forcing children to beg

AFP

A Dakar court has handed down six-month suspended sentences to seven Koranic teachers who forced their pupils to beg, in an unprecedented ruling in the largely Muslim country. The accused were also fined 100,000 francs [150 euros], in what Human Rights Watch said was the first ever application of a 2005 law forbidding the practice.

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During the trial, defence lawyers pleaded for leniency for the defendants, six Senegalese and one Guinea-Bissau citizen.

They argued that, according to tradition, Koranic teachers around the country have always made their pupils beg, and the state had previously tolerated the offence.

On 25 August, the government banned begging in the streets of the capital, saying charity could only take place outside places of worship.

Police rounded up several children between the ages of six and 16, whose testimony led to the arrest of the seven religious teachers.

"This conviction is a first and it will have a resounding effect," said Malik Fall, a lawyer for the accused.

"In our argument we emphasised the shortcomings of the state which has left Koranic education completely on the margins, without subsidy, without identification and without control," said Fall.

In April, the New York-based organisation Human Rights Watch said at least 50,000 boys, known as talibes, were "forced to beg on Senegal's streets for long hours, seven days a week, by often brutally abusive Koranic teachers, known as marabouts."

According to HRW, some children were often punished and beaten for failing to hand over a required daily amount from their begging, or for trying to run away.

"The arrest and conviction of these men represents a welcome step towards ending the exploitation of vulnerable children under the guise of supposed religious education," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at HRW.

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