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Senegal: Human Rights Watch urges action against Quranic school abuses

Some children reported being imprisoned by their teachers in cell-like rooms for weeks or months.

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Senegal: Human Rights Watch urges action against Quranic school abuses
Photo credit: www.hrw.org

Children studying in Senegal’s Quranic schools face “alarming rates” of abuse, including rape, neglect, and imprisonment, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday, urging the government to reform the still-unregulated religious institutions.  

In the Muslim-majority nation where religious leaders wield wide social and political influence, poor children have long been entrusted to Quranic schools, called “daaras”, for education.

In its report on the young students known as “talibes”, the New York-based rights group and PPDH, a coalition of Senegalese groups, called on President Macky Sall to implement large-scale measures to protect tens of thousands of children living in unregulated daaras.

The report documents the deaths of 16 talibes from 2017-2018 from beatings, neglect or endangerment, and other cases of rape, sexual abuse and being forced to beg in the streets.

Some children reported being imprisoned by their teachers in cell-like rooms for weeks or months at a time. Others caught trying to flee said they were chained up to prevent them from trying to escape again. 

“Talibe children are filling the streets, suffering horrific abuse, and dying from abuse and neglect,” said Corinne Dufka, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

Senegal: Human Rights Watch urges action against Quranic school abuses

“Senegalese authorities say they are committed to protecting children and ending forced child begging, so why are so many abusive, exploitative, or dangerous daaras still operating?”

Past attempts to crack down on forced child begging -often by talibes- were praised by children’s groups but greeted with anger by powerful Islamic figures in Senegal.

Often from poor rural families, the talibes are sent to Dakar and other Senegalese cities nominally to memorise the Quran, but are often left vulnerable to abuse and receive little education.

“I didn’t like the daara because they hit us all the time -if we didn’t memorise the verses of the Quran, or if we didn’t bring money,” said a 9-year-old talibe in the HRW report, who fled his daara in Dakar to escape abuse in 2018. “At the daara, they beat you until you think you will die.”

HRW said that while many Quranic teachers in Senegal do not force children to beg and treat them decently, others continue to abuse and neglect those entrusted to them.

Human Rights Watch estimates that over 100,000 talibe children in Senegal are forced by their Quranic teachers -also known as marabouts –to go out into the streets daily and beg for food, money, rice or sugar. Many set begging quotas enforced with often-severe beatings.

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Libyan National Army attack Mitiga airport and Zuwara airfield

Libyan National Army said it targeted a hangar “which houses Turkish drones and their ammunition”.

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(FILES) This file photo taken on April 08, 2019, shows the Mitiga International Airport in Libya's capital Tripoli. - Rocket fire on August 11 hit the Libyan capital's sole functioning airport, violating a temporary truce between the unity government and forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar, airport authorities said. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

Tripoli’s sole functioning airport Mitiga and Zuwara airfield were targeted for the second time in less than 48 hours – the former hit overnight Thursday and the latter on Friday morning.

The Government of National Accord (GNA) reported that three people were wounded in the raids by forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar against the two airports under its control.

Airport management at Mitiga reported rocket fire against the runway “as planes took off and landed”. 

The UN-recognised GNA said on Facebook that Haftar’s forces “targeted employees of the airport services company” at Mitiga with Grad missiles, causing shrapnel wounds to two workers and damaging a bus.

Flights were temporarily suspended or rerouted to Misrata, 200 kilometres (120 miles) east of Tripoli.

In the attack against Zuwara airfield, Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army said it targeted a hangar “which houses Turkish drones and their ammunition”.

The Tripoli-based GNA said a member of civil protection was wounded in that attack.

Pro-Haftar forces also “targeted other hangars… located 1.5 kilometres to the east of Abu Kamach”, LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mesmari said on Facebook.

The country’s biggest petrochemical complex is located there, near the Tunisian border.

Forces loyal to the GNA and the LNA are embroiled in a stalemate in Tripoli’s southern outskirts after Haftar launched an offensive against the capital in April.

Fighting over the last four months has killed 1,093 people and wounded 5,752, according to the World Health Organization. 

Some 120,000 have been displaced over the same period.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. 

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Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa plans to ban prostitution and street begging

Officials say the law aims to “clean up the country’s image”

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Ethiopia's Addis Ababa plans to ban prostitution and street begging
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Officials in Ethiopia’s capital are weighing bans on sex work and street begging, the latest in a series of measures intended to clean up the country’s image, the mayor’s office said Thursday.

Draft legislation detailing the terms of the bans is still being finalised. 

But Feven Teshome, press secretary for the Addis Ababa mayor’s office, told reporters that it was necessary to combat worsening “social problems” in the city of more than three million people.  

“We estimate there are over 50,000 beggars and more than 10,000 street prostitutes in Addis Ababa. The draft law aims to eliminate these social problems that also create a bad image for Ethiopia,” Feven said.

Sex work is currently not criminalised in Ethiopia, and Feven said the proposed ban in Addis Ababa would only apply to solicitation that occurs on the street.

That means it would not affect bars, massage parlours, guesthouses and other sites where sex work is sometimes rampant. 

Both sex workers and their clients would be subject to punishments that could take the form of fines or jail time, Feven said. 

Similarly, the ban on street begging would also target those who give beggars money.  

In May, Ethiopian officials passed nationwide restrictions on alcohol advertising and smoking in public places. 

Those measures also banned the sale of alcohol to anyone under 21 years of age.

In an effort to enforce the smoking restriction, security forces have in recent months raided night clubs suspected of offering shisha, or water pipe, smoking, briefly detaining customers and staff.  

Last month, officials in Addis Ababa banned most motorbikes in a bid to curb crime.

As they prepare to crack down on sex work and street begging, Feven said officials were attempting to provide “alternative job opportunities” for those affected. 

But she acknowledged that both activities can be lucrative, making them difficult to eliminate entirely.  

“Some of these beggars can earn up to Br 7,000 and similarly those engaged in street prostitution can earn incomes that are far higher than ordinary salaries,” Feven said. The figure applies to earnings per month.

City officials plan to hold further discussions on the legislation with religious and community leaders before putting it to a vote. 

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Sierra Leone’s ritual society breaks away from female mutilation practices

In Tonkolili and Port Loko, a new type of ritual is emerging in which girls are initiated by the Sowei, but are not “cut”

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Sierra Leone's ritual society breaks away from female genital mutilation practice
Bondo women's secret society dance during a performance in Kroo Bay, Freetown. (Photo by LYNN ROSSI / AFP)

Wearing a fading Mickey Mouse T-shirt, her knees hugged to her chest, eight-year-old Musu Kamara sits in a corrugated shack in Sierra Leone’s capital waiting for her initiation into a secret society.

Kamara will live for two weeks in the bush with a sisterhood called Bondo.

There, she and other girls will learn ritual dances and chants and how to confront spirits as the group is groomed for adulthood and tribal duties. And Kamara will also have to endure female genital mutilation.

For youngsters in Sierra Leone, the end of the school year often means passing through initiation into a Bondo or, for boys, an all-male group called a Poro.

The ceremonies have deep roots and are jealously guarded in many villages, where they are defended as a vital moment in life.

READ: Poo Power: How dung biodigester is supercharging farming in Kenya

But many of the children who take part in them will be scarred, physically, as well as mentally.

Boys, whose retreats can last months, may be sliced on the back with razors to leave the “mark of the teeth” of a spirit that swallows them.

Girls face “cutting”: the removal of their clitoris, a practice found in other parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia — and increasingly reviled.

Social status –

Secret societies have an entrenched role in tribal and political life in Sierra Leone, as in other parts of West Africa.

Membership confers social status and respect, even opening doors to tribal chief posts and government jobs.

Joe Alie, a professor of African studies at the University of Sierra Leone, said more than 90 per cent of the country’s population was involved in ancestral and secret rites.

Bondo and Poro societies “still play a leading role in the social, religious and political life” of communities, he said.

But President Julius Maada Bio’s government faces a delicate balancing act over how to manage these influential organisations and their traditions.

The pain of ritual, especially female genital mutilation — FGM — is increasingly under attack.

Even Bio’s wife, Fatima, was caught up in the debate early this year.

She provoked a huge backlash after publicly declaring she was not against FGM, which practitioners call circumcision.

The first lady later said she had been misunderstood and that she condemned the forcible excision of girls aged under 18.

Yambundu Oile, who has initiated thousands of girls like Kamara, said “cutting” was only part of the initiation.

“It is not only to circumcise them, we also teach them to be a woman, to cook, to respect the elders,” she said.

“After the initiation, they return to their community to continue their education until their marriage.”

Under pressure –

The societies are under pressure after a string of kidnappings and even deaths, forcing the government to temporarily ban them. 

READ: Biblio-art: How Polish artist adorns Egyptian monastery with Christian designs

Now, rituals cannot be imposed on minors without their consent, and any discrimination for non-membership of a secret society is prohibited. 

But analysts see little impact.

“The challenge is to eliminate female genital mutilation, but not the Bondo culture,” which plays an important role in society, says Rugiatu Turay, a former minister who supports a ban on FGM.

“We have more Bondo sites than schools in Sierra Leone… But it’s hard to convince people to reform their practices because politicians fund circumcision ceremonies to win votes.”

Despite this, the outcry against FGM is leading to change.

“I want none of my daughters to undergo genital mutilation, which leaves a mark for life,” says Mabinty Bangura, who endured FGM 20 years ago — a ceremony whose pain, she said, “never seemed to end”. 

“One woman covers your mouth, another is holding you by the chest and two others by the legs,” she said.

“Then they spread your legs, remove the whole clitoris and apply a tissue impregnated with medicinal herbs.”

No-FGM rituals –

In the northern regions of Tonkolili and Port Loko, a new type of ritual is emerging in which girls are initiated by the Sowei — the head of a female secret society — but are not “cut.”

It is the initiative of a Swiss aid worker, Michele Moreau, who in 2010 became the first European to join a Bondo, taking the name of Shema Roko. 

“Twenty-five Soweis have vowed before leaders to stop the circumcisions. They replaced their red scarves with yellow ones, creating the ‘Yellow Bondo’,” said Moreau, whose association supports the schooling and health of young girls. 

Since then, around 700 girls have been initiated in Tonkolili without undergoing FGM. 

READ: Contents of two ancient pyramids unveiled in Egypt

Some applaud the initiative as a way of enrolling secret societies into the fight to stamp out mutilation. 

Others, though, oppose it as disrespectful.

“I hope that circumcision continues, but with the consent of the girls,” said Sento Kamara, a Bondo member. “It is part of our culture and our tradition.”

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