12 June 2015

On 31 May 2015, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) – the committee tasked with monitoring the implementation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (the ‘African Charter’) – published its decision in the Talibés children case.

The decision was made in response to a communication brought in 2012 against the Government of Senegal by the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria in South Africa and Rencontre Africain pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme (RADDHO) – a Senegalese NGO.

The communication highlighted that as many as 100,000 children aged 4-12 years (known as talibés) are sent by their parents to study in private Qur’anic schools (daaras) in Senegal, which provide ‘free’ religious education to students who lack access to public schooling. However, to fund their education, talibés are often forced by their teachers (marabouts) to beg in the streets of Senegal’s urban areas. 

According to the communication, talibés spend on average more time begging to fulfil daily quotas than they do receiving classroom instruction. And despite the passing of laws criminalising forced begging of children, the Senegalese government has made little effort to enforce these laws against offending marabouts. The government has also failed to monitor or regulate educational instruction in the daaras.

The ACERWC concluded that the government’s failure to protect the rights of talibés constituted a violation of numerous articles of the African Charter, namely: Article 4 on the best interests of the child; Article 5 of the right to survival and development; Article 11 on the right to education; Article 14 on the right to health; Article 15 on the freedom from child labour; Article 29 on freedom from sale, trafficking and abduction; and Article 21 on protection from harmful practices.

Of interest is the ACERWC’s finding that Senegal is in violation of Article 11 of the African Charter due to its failure to provide free and compulsory education to all children – one of the primary reasons that talibes are sent by their parents to the daaras. According to the decision: “the government must enforce its own laws to protect talibés from this abuse and ensure that the education received in daaras equips these children with a rounded education and does not allow forced begging”.

Relevant to the right to education, the ACERWC recommended that Senegal establish minimum norms and standards for all daaras relating to health, safety, education content, and quality; integrate the daaras into the formal education system; inspect the daaras regularly to ensure they meet minimum standards; and ensure the provision of free and compulsory education.