Mario Cruz gained rare access to the dark side of many Koranic schools in Senegal, known as daaras, and captured disturbing but stunning photographs of the lives of young boys subjected to slave-like conditions. The book Talibes Modern Day Slaves documents an alarming social condition for at least 50,000 young boys in Senegal aged between five and 15.
Koranic boarding schools in Senegal, known as daaras, traditionally give children between the ages of five and fifteen a religious education and teach them Arabic. But the schools are highly unregulated, and conditions in many are poor, with near-starving children living in overcrowded, unsanitary circumstances. The pupils, or talibés, are beaten and sometimes kept in chains for hours on end. Some are the victims of child-trafficking. Talibés are frequently made to beg on the streets for up to eight or nine hours a day, giving all they collect to their marabout (teacher).
A marabout with his talibés in a Koranic school in Keur Massar, Senegal, May 2015. Many teachers have more than one school and each school can have more than 30 boys. Human Rights Watch reports that more than 30,000 boys are forced to beg in the Dakar region alone.
A graffiti with the image of Amadou Bamba’s, creator of the Mouridism, in Rufisque, Senegal, May 2015. Amadou Bamba wrote tracts on meditation, rituals, work, and Quranic study. Part of Senegalese society considers that today’s daaras don’t follow this chain and therefore should not even be considered quranic schools.
Talibés wake up at their daara in Diamaguene, Senegal, May 2015. Many of the children don’t know where they come from or even who their parents are.
Talibes praying inside a daara before they go to the streets to beg, in Rufisque, Senegal, May 2015.
A talibe leaves his daara to go beg in the streets of Dakar, Senegal, May 2015. Children are forced to beg for an average of 8 hours a day, many of them spend their days almost without eating.
A talibé begs on a bridge in Diamaguene, Senegal, May 2015.
A talibé holds a Koran slate used for learning verses and practicing calligraphy inside his daara in Rufisque, Senegal, May 2015.
A marabout whips a boy who has made a mistake while reading the Koran, in Rufisque, Senegal, May 2015. The talibés are subjected to physical violence when they fail to get the daily quota imposed by the marabout or if they make a mistake while reading the Koran.
Demba Fati, 14, outside the medical support room of Mason de La Gare center, a local group that helps talibés in St. Louis, Senegal, May 2015. His marabout beat him with an iron rod after he tried to escape. Since then, he goes to the center whenever he needs medical care.
Talibés read the Koran inside their daara in,Dakar, Senegal, May 2015. Every day they have to memorize different parts of the Koran before going to the streets to beg for their guardians.
Abdoulaye, 15, is imprisoned in a room with security bars to prevent him running away, in a daara in western Senegal, May 2015. What was a way of teaching is now, sometimes, a way of exploitation. What was once a school is often a place of torture.
A man gives money to talibés in Touba, Senegal, May 2015.
A talibé begs on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal, May 2015.
A talibé reads the Koran inside a school in Dakar, Senegal, May 2015. Most of the talibés are Senegalese but the number of children from neighbooring countries like Guinea-Bissau have become an important part in this phenomenon.
Talibés outside their daara in Rufisque, May 2015. Many of the schools are created in buildings that were never completed.
Khadim Gueye and Aname Samb inside their house in Dakar, Senegal, May 2015. They gave away their three children to a supposed local daara because they couldn’t afford their education. They haven’t seen their children since the marabout took them.
A talibé sleeps on a wooden bench in Diamaguene, May 2015. Many talibés stay awake in their daaras with fear of physical abuse. Due to tiredness they end up sleeping on the streets while they beg for their marabouts.
A young talibé is bound by chains in an isolation area of a daara in Touba, Senegal, May 2015. In this daara the youngest talibés are shackled by their ankles to stop them from running away. These children can stay like that for days, weeks, even months until they gain the marabout’s trust.
‘Talibes Modern Day Slaves’ is a book that contains 70 black and white photographs. The texts are in English, Arabic, Portuguese and French. It will provide local and international NGOs working on the issue enduring testimony and concrete evidence about the systematic exploitation of children in some daaras in Senegal and hopefully triggers a social change.
Mario Cruz was awarded the World Press Photo for Contemporary Issues for this work. You can buy the book on his website.
Copyright 2016 FotoEvidence. All rights reserved.
Photographs: Copyright© 2016 Mario Cruz