FaithWorld

Senegal’s Koranic “scholars” face beatings: report

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Fali Ba, 10, a Talibe or Islamic student, holds a copy of the Koran at a Dara, or Koranic school, in Pikine on the outskirts of Senegal's capital Dakar, May 7, 2008/Finbarr O'Reilly

Barefoot children in tattered clothes scramble through the dusty, trash-strewn streets of Dakar, tapping on car windows and shadowing market-goers in the hopes of a few coins or a cup of rice.

The sight of young people begging is not uncommon in a country struggling with deep-rooted poverty, but in the West African state of Senegal there is a twist.

These children are students in the nation’s traditional Koranic school system being forced by teachers to panhandle on pain of severe beatings, according to an investigation by global advocacy group Human Rights Watch released on Thursday.

“There are at least 50,000 children just in urban residential daaras (Koranic schools) that are living in conditions akin to slavery,” said study author Matt Wells.

Nine-year-old’s abortion stirs Brazil debate

Stuart Grudgings in Rio de Janeiro writes: The Roman Catholic Church’s strong opposition to an abortion carried out this week on a nine-year-old Brazilian girl suspected to have been raped by her stepfather has highlighted the uphill struggle that abortion reform advocates face in the Latin American country.

The reaction of the archbishop in northeastern Pernambuco state, who excommunicated the mother of the girl and the doctors, was criticized by Brazil’s health minister as “extreme.” Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has described abortion as a public issue rather than a moral one, also weighed in, saying “medicine is more correct than the Church.”

Debate in Brazil about the long taboo subject of abortion — which remains illegal except in cases of rape and when the mother’s life is in danger — has sprouted in recent years. The country’s Supreme Court is due to rule this year on whether the exceptions can extend to anencephalic pregnancies, when the fetus has no brain. But despite a rise in the number of legal abortions in recent years, opposition to reform remains stiff — principally from the Catholic Church, but also among a majority of Brazilians, polls show. Pope Benedict made opposition to abortion the cornerstone of his visit to the world’s most populous Catholic country two years ago.