DAKAR (Reuters) – Senegalese security forces have arrested seven Koranic teachers for forcing children to panhandle, a police official said on Friday, days after the announced a crack down on public begging.
The predominately Muslim country is under mounting international pressure to end the use of children by Koranic teachers to collect money, rice and sugar after a prominent rights group said the practice was similar to slavery.
"We have arrested seven Koranic teachers who have sent children to the streets to beg," police spokesman Mbaye Sady Diop said. "They were handed over to the prosecutor to do his job."
Parents in have been entrusting their children to traditional Muslim schools, called daaras, for centuries, expecting them to receive food, shelter and teachings from the Koran, and to work on communal farms.
But forced begging began to emerge in the 1970s when crop failures led schools to move into cities and boarding students were called upon to panhandle to cover costs.
said in April at least 50,000 children in the country of 12 million were living in conditions "akin to slavery," facing severe beatings from unscrupulous teachers if they did not collect enough money.
Some of the religious leaders -- known as marabouts -- make as much as $100,000 per year on the proceeds while cutting back hours in the classroom, according to the report.
Senegal announced last week it would enforce an existing ban on public begging, "under threat from partners."
But opponents of the crackdown say with little formal employment and a virtually non-existent welfare system, many adults and children in the impoverished country have little choice but to beg.
(Reporting by Diadie Ba; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Ralph Boulton)
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