The Right to Education

This week at Media Voices, we have a trailer for a film that reminds us that poor children have a right not just to education, but to quality in their education. Daniela Kon’s film, Talibe, exposes a persistent issue with some Islamic boarding schools in Senegal, where teachers treat their students as cash cows, requiring them to go out and bring in a certain amount of money each day by begging. In their report, Off the Backs of the Children, Human Rights Watch researchers have found that some teachers make more than $60,000 a year off the forced labor of their charges (see also the accompanying article, Senegal: Boys in Many Quranic Schools Suffer Severe Abuse as well as a 2008 article, Senegal: Why the ‘Talibe’ Problem Won’t Go Away). Nice job if you can get it, particularly in a country where the average person is living on $2 a day.

The saddening thing about this, is that parents who send their sons to these daaras, really are trying to give them a better chance in life. In her Q&A, Daniela Kon is careful to point out that abuse of students is a perversion of Islamic education, and that there are in fact good Islamic schools, where students get an education, rather than being exploited. They exist – just not for the poor. Meanwhile, the children run the risk of being run over as they weave through the busy traffic in Dakar, trying to make enough money not to get beaten when they return to the school. Babacar R. (14 years old) had this to say:

Begging is too difficult because if I do not have the daily quota, the grand
talibé beats me. He hits me everywhere—on the head, the back, everywhere,
and over and over. It’s difficult, it’s very painful…. I want to return home and
work in my village. I don’t want to be here.

Thirteen-year-old Seydou R. says that in fear of being beaten he and his friends occasionally turned to stealing:

Because we were scared of being beaten for not having the sum, all of us
would steal something and give the money to the marabout if we were in
danger of not collecting the sum. We would do anything to get the 300 CFA

With the children living in truly Dickensian conditions, beaten, not fed properly and neglected, it’s not surprising that quite a few talibés end up running away and swelling the numbers of children living on the streets of Dakar.

We need some good news, and as it happens, there is some. In Birmingham, Malala Yousafzai was just released from the hospital to recover at home with her family and prepare for another operation to rebuild her skull scheduled for late February. The New York Times has a video of Malala speaking fluently and passionately about education for girls. The human brain is a marvelous thing – particularly hers.

Want to know what you can do to help? Contribute to the Malala Fund.


Petra Lent McCarron is an experienced television and film producer and editor. She co-produced Stolen Childhoods and Rescuing Emmanuel for Galen Films.

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