To start, it is important to go back to the beginning of the daara system and how it has been an integral part of Senegalese culture for quite some time. Daaras were first established by the Mouride brotherhoods in the 1700s, composed of young men who would work the fields for a marabout, in return for a Qur’anic education (Antislavery.Org). This system evolved into a way to send young boys, some as young as four, to school that includes a religious background, as is often the focus for education in this predominantly-Muslim country. And, as one father recounts, “[i]t is assumed that I am not capable of giving my children their necessary education because of my affection, that I will tolerate things that I shouldn’t. And so we have entrusted our children to the marabouts, who live in another village, to create this distance to permit a good education” (PBS). Therefore the marabouts have every right to treat their students in any way they wish.
The begging aspect of the curriculum comes from the tradition of having students beg for an hour or two in order to learn humility. Zakat, or charity in Arabic, is one of the five pillars of Islam – meaning that devout Muslims will give to the needy as a part of practicing their faith. But this only holds up so far. What happens on the streets today is not a lesson in humility. It is exploiting a religion and its followers for personal monetary gain. These boys are not truly needy, in the sense that they have no option other than begging. They have put on the streets by someone who is supposed to be a caretaker and teacher, and no one seems to care.
From the lack of outrage over the forced child begging that goes on within the country, it is not a stretch to suppose that most of the population simply accepts it as a way of life, good or bad. Many accounts say that it is tradition, that it is not the place for different groups to impose rules on others, and that the education and pursuit of Allah is worth the begging if it is the only way to get it. But is it really? What could really be worth more than the childhood a development of the estimated 50,000 talibé boys in Senegal (antislavery.org)?
I accept that teaching groups of boys about religion, if sanctioned by their parents, used to be tradition. And although the system has been not sanctioned by the greater Islam organism, talibés have, as said above, been around for close to three centuries in West Africa. That being said, the daara system barely resembles what it used to be. After Senegal went through a series of hard economic hits in the 1960s and 70s , including a severe drought and the out-production of competing markets, the daara system took a turn for the worse (Guardian). With this, daaras started moving to big cities from their smaller, more agriculture-based villages, which changed the structure of the talibé life completely.
In affluent cities, it is financially more feasible for people to give to the talibé beggars, and the marabouts have found that by forcing the boys to beg for each of their meals as well as money they can turn a sizable profit. One study by TOSTAN found that a daara of about 50 talibés could earn a marabout about $770 a month. Even if housing and other expenses are higher, a marabout can “earn” over $275 a month, the average salary of a primary teacher in Senegal (antislavery.org). Regardless of whatever education these boys are getting, they are paying for it exceedingly, and that is nothing that can be justified by tradition that barely holds up.