Human Rights Watch is urging Senegal to implement a law criminalizing forced begging. Many families are misled into entrusting their children to people acting as Islamic teachers, who then exploit thousands of young boys.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
If you pass through the streets of Senegal's bustling capital, Dakar, here's something you can't miss: Young, sometimes very young boys in rags, begging on the streets. A new report from New York-based Human Rights Watch is urging the government there to implement a law to criminalize forced begging.
NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports that many of the boys are being abused.
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OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: This is Independence Square in the heart of Dakar, and this is where you see many of the young boys with their trademark tomato cans, clinking just the few coins in there. They're meant to be learning the Koran. And they have a set amount that they have to collect every single day, otherwise they are beaten and mistreated.
And with me is the author of the Human Rights Watch report, Matt Wells.
MATT WELLS: You're talking about a, you know, a country that is, in many ways, held up as a model in West Africa. And yet, yah, there's this incredible disconnect when you see tens of thousands of young boys - five, six years old, who every day are forced to beg on the streets, are exploited in the name of religion. But really simply in a lucrative criminal practice for these fake Koranic teachers.
QUIST-ARCTON: Senegalese commentator Tidiane Sy says there's resistance to change, along with support for legitimate religious boarding schools. And he says the government forgot to organize awareness campaigns along with its planned reforms.
TIDIAN SY: You have so many stakeholders involved, it can't be changed overnight. Because you have cultural, you have religious issues, and you have a survival issue. Because also those who are being taken out to beg, probably come from extremely poor families who can't afford raising their kids by themselves, and who give them to these Koranic teachers.
QUIST-ARCTON: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, downtown Dakar.
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This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.