DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Twelve-year-old Youssuf and 7-year-old Mamadou start their day at 5 a.m. walking from a Dakar, Senegal suburb into the city to beg for money. The older boy must come back with 700 CFA ($1) and the younger 500CFA ($0.80), or they may get beaten. They then must go beg for food.
"We have no choice," said Youssuf who was sent by his family from Guinea-Bissau to study the Quran at a school known as a daara.
Human Rights Watch and a coalition of 40 organizations in Senegal, known as the Platform for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, are calling on the government and police to enforce laws adopted nearly a decade ago that prohibit forcing children to beg. More must be done to make sure abusive schools are held accountable, the groups said in a report Monday.
"Police can't just stand by," said Corrine Dufka, West Africa regional director for Human Rights Watch.
A 2014 government census of Quranic schools found over 30,000 boys subjected to forced begging for food and money in Dakar, the report said. The children live in poor conditions, at least seven have been killed since February 2014, according to social workers and child rights advocates who spoke with Human Rights Watch. Many have open wounds on their knees, feet, live in unsanitary conditions and reported beatings to the rights group.
Senegal has prosecuted only a handful of cases involving children who are trafficked and forced to beg like this despite the 2005 law outlawing the practice, the groups said.
"The message government is sending, by its failure to investigate and prosecute the people behind these abuses, is that the lives of these children are not worth protecting," said coalition head Mamadou Wane.
There is a tradition of sending children to learn the Quran at boarding schools. The groups said many of the schools are legitimate, but that "thousands of so-called teachers use religious education as a cover for economic exploitation of the children in their charge," with no fear or prosecution.
The government should remove children from the schools that exploit and abuse, and the National Assembly should pass a draft law regulating Quranic schools, the groups said.