It sounds like a fairy tales, but it’s not. What is a Daraa? A daraa is a Koranic school in Sénégal. The teacher is a Marabout, a man who knows the Koran. He teaches is pupils, named talibe.
The children comes from the poorest family. Most come from distant rural villages. A good Muslim must know the Koran. For this reason, many Muslim parents in Senegal send their young sons to distant Koranic schools—called daaras—where they may spend several years memorizing the sacred text.
The little boys spend nine hours a day begging and five hours learning the Koran. At 8 a.m. the boys are sent out to beg for three hours, then they return to the shack for learning, which involves chanting Koranic verses, until 1 p.m. They beg for their lunch until 2, learn the Koran until 5, then are sent out to beg until 10.
Filthy and ragged, these boys, as young as 5 or 6, scurry barefoot through the dusty streets with tomato paste cans as begging bowls, knowing that if they come back two days running with no coins they will be beaten with a whip.
Marabouts say they force children to beg for money for food because their parents don’t pay fées.
The United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, estimated in a 2004 report that Senegal has 100,000 child beggars, mostly talibes — almost 1% of the population.
The Daraa we visited was about 5 kms from our hôtel in Saly, at Petite Cote (the little coast, 80 kms south from Dakar). A little construction, one room for the marabout, with a bed. Another room for the kids, no beds. No trees around. A well for the water. Three goats and a few chicken. At four o’clock, the kids were having meal : rice and fishes in the collective bowl. After lunch, they recited the Koran. They don’t speak french, though french is the official tongue in Sénégal, They don’t go to the public school, because they are too poor.