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Muslim Schools Make Beggars Of Africans

A very troubling story from, of all places, those defenders of the faith at the Associated Press:

Boy flees Islamic school that makes beggars of African kids

By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, Associated Press Writer

DAKAR, Senegal – On the day he decided to run away, 9-year-old Coli awoke on a filthy mat.

Like a pup, he lay curled against the cold, pressed between dozens of other children sleeping head-to-toe on the concrete floor. His T-shirt was damp with the dew that seeped through the thin walls. The older boys had yanked away the square of cloth he used to protect himself from the draft. He shivered.

It was still dark as he set out for the mouth of a freeway with the other boys, a tribe of 7-, 8- and 9-year-old beggars.

Coli padded barefoot between the stopped cars, his head reaching only halfway up the windows. His scrawny body disappeared under a ragged T-shirt that grazed his knees. He held up an empty tomato paste can as his begging bowl.

There are 1.2 million Colis in the world today, children trafficked to work for the benefit of others. Those who lure them into servitude make $15 billion annually, according to the International Labor Organization.

It’s big business in Senegal. In the capital of Dakar alone, at least 7,600 child beggars work the streets, according to a study released in February by the ILO, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Bank. The children collect an average of 300 African francs a day, just 72 cents, reaping their keepers $2 million a year.

Most of the boys — 90 percent, the study found — are sent out to beg under the cover of Islam, placing the problem at the complicated intersection of greed and tradition. For among the cruelest facts of Coli’s life is that he was not stolen from his family. He was brought to Dakar with their blessing to learn Islam’s holy book.

In the name of religion, Coli spent two hours a day memorizing verses from the Quran and over nine hours begging to pad the pockets of the man he called his teacher.

It was getting dark. Coli had less than half the 72 cents he was told to bring back. He was afraid. He knew what happened to children who failed to meet their daily quotas.

They were stripped and doused in cold water. The older boys picked them up like hammocks by their ankles and wrists. Then the teacher whipped them with an electrical cord until the cord ate their skin

Three years ago, a man wearing a skullcap came to Coli’s village in the neighboring country of Guinea-Bissau and asked for him.

Coli’s parents immediately addressed the man as “Serigne,” a term of respect for Muslim leaders on Africa’s western coast. Many poor villagers believe that giving a Muslim holy man a child to educate will gain an entire family entrance to paradise.

Since the 11th century, families have sent their sons to study at the Quranic schools that flourished on Africa’s western seaboard with the rise of Islam. It is forbidden to charge for an Islamic education, so the students, known as talibe, studied for free with their marabouts, or spiritual teachers. In return, the children worked in the marabout’s fields…

Not all Quranic boarding schools force their students to beg. But for the most part, what was once an esteemed form of education has degenerated into child trafficking. Nowadays, Quranic instructors net as many children as they can to increase their daily take

Middle men trawl for children as far afield as the dunes of Mauritania and the grass-covered huts of Mali. It’s become a booming, regional trade that ensnares children as young as 2, who don’t know the name of their village or how to return home

In 2005, Senegal made it a crime punishable by five years in prison to force a child to beg. But the same law makes an exception for children begging for religious reasons. Few dare to cross marabouts for fear of supernatural retaliation.

Coli’s marabout entered the [children’s] shelter flanked by a column of religious leaders in cascading robes that tumbled onto the ground. One of them stabbed his finger at the clouds and yelled out, “The sky will fall down on you if you don’t hand over our children.”

The shelter is used to such threats. But this time the marabouts had discovered the center’s legal paperwork was not complete. They threatened to close the shelter if it did not hand over 11 boys.

To save more than 40 others, the shelter handed over the 11. Coli was on the list.

Back at the school, they beat the 9-year-old until he thought he was going to faint. At night, they dragged him off the floor, doused him in water and beat him again.

Three days later, he ran away again. When he arrived at the shelter, he said: “I want to go home to my mom.” …

Soon after Coli left, his marabout traveled to Guinea-Bissau. He angrily demanded to know why Coli had run away.

Ashamed, Coli’s father promised to make up for the boy’s bad behavior.

He is sending the marabout two more sons.

Sadly, the most shocking thing about this story is that the Associated Press even reported it.

For it sure sounds like this practice is very widespread, and that it has going on for years. And yet we have been told so little about it hitherto?

Why is that?

This article was posted by Steve on Sunday, April 20th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

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