Friday, 30 March 2012

Students…Beggars…Slaves…Take your pick!

Students…Beggars…Slaves…Take your pick!

It all started innocently…Parents wanting their children to become learned, respected members of their society. They would send the children to the madrassa, dans la brousse where, free from distracting influences, they could learn from the Marabou, the Holy Koran. In a few years, as young men, they would be able to recite whole of it in Arabic, even if they don’t know the language itself. They will become, in turn, Marabous, some of them to lead their community in prayer and become part of the group of wise men advising the village chief, and some also to teach other children…

The children in the brousse, in the madrassa, would seldom if ever see their parents. They would sleep in modest mud huts or paillottes, and would eat what the people from the neighboring village would put in their bowls, to help them with their studies…Similar to the system the Buddhist monks used.

A good, humane system kept in check for hundreds of years. I have seen it working in the village madrassa of Gongucarre, in the isolated islands of the Niger, where it continues the tradition (see first picture, a marabou with the wood board used as a copybook by the kids) .

But, in the urban Niamey the system is corrupted and dangerous for these children, and the system is the worst form of organized begging and basically a form of human trafficking.

The children are still sent to the marabou, for years, but the learning has become secondary. Now, they spend most of their time begging in the streets of Niamey and not for food but for money. As with most organized begging schemes, they give all the money to their master, the marabou, in exchange for meager food and shelter. They are often punished if they don’t make enough money so that makes them pretty insistent.

You recognize them by their stainless steel or aluminum bowls, often chained to their body, the BRAND that distinguishes them as MADRASSA STUDENTS!! The marabous exploit shamelessly the statute of their pupils, destined to become community leaders and lead into prayer the people, a great honor among the Muslims. They will roam the busy streets, the markets, the entrances in the hotels frequented by foreign turists. Friday is the weekly peak of their “market”. All children will gather near the mosques for the afternoon prayer at 2.00 pm and beg for the money of the people who have come to pray…hundreds of them…

I would have expected the madrassa to function rather like a social protection safety net for abandoned children but I am assured that is not the case. In most African societies there are nearly no abandoned children as the extended family is the safety net. These children are left all day alone to beg and are exposed to all the risks of the homeless children. Cases of pedophilia are known. Authorities, of course, know the situation but for reasons unknown to me do not take action. Maybe it’s been like this for so long it doesn’t seem something BAD any longer. Maybe because they don’t want to piss-off the religious leaders, accustomed to the easy money brought to them by this form of “religious” slavery. It would be political suicide…I seriously think to write to CNN about this…

No comments:

Post a Comment