Last Updated: Monday, 28 July 2014, 16:37 GMT

Niger: When religious teachers traffic their students

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 26 August 2009
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Niger: When religious teachers traffic their students, 26 August 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a9783fe2c.html [accessed 29 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
NIAMEY, 26 August 2009 (IRIN) - Some of the highest-ranking teachers of Islam, known as marabouts, are responsible for trafficking children through Niger to neighbouring countries to beg and bring home cash, according to the research group Open Society Initiative for West Africa, which funded a recent local NGO training with more than 20 marabouts on the Koran and education.

Koranic teachers are often implicated in domestic and cross-border child trafficking from Niger, according to a 2005 study by the National Nigerien Association of Human Rights.

The non-profit Niger Association to Deal with Delinquency and Prevent Crime (ANTD) conducted a training late July in the capital Niamey, the first of three scheduled seminars nationwide, with marabouts chosen "for their power and influence" said the group's coordinator, Amadou Idrissa. The seminar covered Koranic passages on the religious necessity of educating children.

One of the marabouts who attended the training told IRIN Islamic principles sanctions child begging ? but only to a certain limit. "Once the child has received his daily quota in his tin can, he should return to his Koranic teacher to pursue his religious studies and not stay on the streets," said Oumarou Garba.

Entrusted by their families to live with marabouts to study the Koran, the children ? known as talibés ? are frequently seen begging with tin cans to earn their keep, which ? Garba said ? is part of their religious education.

"These children should under no condition serve to enrich their teacher," he told IRIN. "But certain rogue teachers take advantage of this situation to deprive children entrusted to them of an education."

He said the training helped him to learn more about the Koran's position on the value of education.

Some international child protection organizations question whether children labelled as trafficking victims fit the legal definition or are working in exploitive conditions. 

ANTD's Idrissa said some Koranic students are pushed by uninformed parents as well as their teachers into begging under brutal conditions, losing out on education years.

"These youths are completely dependent on their teachers, at least for their food," said Idrissa. ANTD cond ucts regular skills training for former Koranic school students to help them become self-sufficient after years of begging, he added.

Most the youth regret never having received a formal, secular education said one of ANTD's trainers, Aria Maiga, who works with former talibés in Tillabéry, 115km west of the capital Niamey. "They welcomed the training and many are making a living in their new jobs," she said.

There were 384,000 students registered with more than 50,000 Koranic schools in Niger in 2004, the most recent data available from the Ministry of Education.

But ANTD's coordinator told IRIN it is difficult to estimate the number of Koranic students in Niger because teachers move their classes frequently and their attendance lists are unreliable.

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