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ISSUE: Senegal Urged to Rein in Religious Schools


Surely one of the best hopes for humankind is to embrace a culture in which religions and other beliefs accept one another, in which wars and violence are not tolerated in the name of an exclusive right to truth, in which children are raised to solve conflicts with mediation, compassion and understanding.



THE TANDEM PROJECT

UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
 FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF

Separation of Religion or Belief and State

SENEGAL URGED TO REIN IN RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS
 

Issue: Senegal - Human Rights Education on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Religious Schools as Follow-up to the Senegal Universal Periodic Review.

For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society

Review: Senegal Urged to Rein in Religious Schools, by Adam Nossiter, Dakar, Senegal, New York Times: International Section, 16 April 2010.

Excerpts: “Thousands of children in Senegal are forced to beg on the streets under the pretext that they are receiving religious instruction, Human Rights Watch said in a report Thursday that urged the government to crack down on the long-established phenomenon. At least 50,000 such children are on the streets of this impoverished West African nation’s cities, the report said, ‘subjected to conditions akin to slavery.”

“A government spokesman, Bamba Ndiaye, said the problem was a difficult one to regulate with laws. The phenomenon is complex because it is tied to religion, Mr. Ndiaye said. Those who send their children say it is to learn the Koran, and that is the best possible thing. The solution is not simply to create a law, he said. It’s to create conditions that will change the problem. The whole problem stems from separation of church and state. In our Constitution, it says religious communities regulate themselves.”

Human Rights Watch 144 Page Report: http://www.hrw.org/node/89603

“The 114-page report, "‘Off the Backs of the Children': Forced Begging and Other Abuses against Talibés in Senegal," documents the system of exploitation and abuse in which at least 50,000 boys known as talibés - the vast majority under age 12 and many as young as four - are forced to beg on Senegal's streets for long hours, seven days a week, by often brutally abusive teachers, known as marabouts. The report says that the boys often suffer extreme abuse, neglect, and exploitation by the teachers. It is based on interviews with 175 current and former talibés, as well as some 120 other people, including marabouts, families who sent their children to these schools, Islamic scholars, government officials, and humanitarian officials.”

SENEGAL URGED TO REIN IN RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/16/world/africa/16senegal.html?ref=todayspaper&pagewanted=print
By ADAM NOSSITER

DAKAR, Senegal — Thousands of children in Senegal are forced to beg on the streets under the pretext that they are receiving religious instruction, Human Rights Watch said in a report Thursday that urged the government to crack down on the long-established phenomenon.

At least 50,000 such children are on the streets of this impoverished West African nation’s cities, the report said, “subject to conditions akin to slavery.”

Brandishing begging bowls and tin cans at passers-by and motorists, they collect coins for religious leaders who have promised their parents that they will be given instruction in the Koran. In fact, the children’s principal duty is often to support the religious leaders, the report said.

The children, some trafficked in from neighboring Guinea-Bissau, are forced to sleep sometimes 30 to a room in filth and deprivation, with inadequate food and then are sent back to the streets each day to meet a begging “quota.” If they fail to meet it, they are often subjected to “swift and severe” physical abuse, the report said.

“The Senegalese and Bissau-Guinean governments, Islamic authorities under whose auspices the schools allegedly operate, and parents have all failed miserably to protect tens of thousands of these children from abuse, and have not made any significant effort to hold the perpetrators accountable,” the report said.

All over this city, the sight of squadrons of small, ragged children with hands extended and begging bowls thrust forward is a familiar one. Motorists stopped in traffic or leaving their cars are routinely solicited, and pedestrians, particularly Westerners, cannot walk on downtown streets without being stopped for coins by the children, many well under the age of 10. The tiny children run in and out of traffic, unsupervised by any adult.

“By no means do all” the religious schools engage in the practice, the report said, but it said hundreds did. Human Rights Watch criticized Senegal for failing to enforce current laws that make it illegal to force others to beg and to abuse children, and for not regulating the schools, called daaras, where the children are kept.

While criticizing the role of parents who turn over their children to religious leaders, or marabouts, with little consideration of how they will be treated, the group laid principal blame squarely on the Senegalese government.
“Given the widespread nature of this problem, only with a government response will it be effectively eradicated,” said Matthew Wells, author of the report.
A government spokesman, Bamba Ndiaye, said the problem was a difficult one to regulate with laws. “The phenomenon is complex because it is tied to religion,” Mr. Ndiaye said. “Those who send their children to the daara say it is to learn the Koran, and that is the best possible thing.”
“The solution is not simply to create a law,” he said. “It’s to create conditions that will change the problem. The whole problem stems from separation of church and state. In our Constitution, it says religious communities regulate themselves.”


This is a violation of the obligation to observe the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights, (ICCPR) and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) for which Senegal is a States Party. Senegal is a Member State of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) since 1969.

The Tandem Project calls for an Exchange of Information with government officials in Senegal, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Human Rights Watch and other NGO’s in Senegal on how to implement the existing law, not create another law to stop this practice, or at the very least through human rights education to follow-up on the Senegal Universal Periodic Review with the Islamic scholars and teachers who are allowing this practice to continue. 

There is no tension between universality vs. relativity. For States Parties these legal norms on human rights are universal, to protect all individuals against discrimination based on religion or belief and with all due respect are not relative to the constitution, religion, culture or tradition of a county.

INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS (ICCPR)
CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD (CRC)

1. 3 Freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

This is international law for States Parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

THE 1981 UN DECLARATION ON THE ELIMINATION OF ALL FORMS OF
INTOLERANCE AND DISCRIMINATION BASED ON RELIGION OR BELIEF

5. 5 Practices of a religion or belief in which a child is brought up must not be injurious to his physical or mental health or to his full development, taking into account Article 1, paragraph 3, of the present Declaration.

5. 3 The child shall be protected from any form of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. He shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance and friendship among peoples, peace and universal brotherhood, respect for the freedom of religion or belief of others and in full consciousness that his energy and talents should be devoted to the service of his fellow men.

Attachments: Senegal Universal Periodic Review & Freedom of Religion or Belief; Exchange of Information – Senegal Universal Periodic Review; Human Rights Education & Freedom of Religion or Belief.