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Setting a Child “Slave” Free
19 May 2008
Taalibe boy
A typical taalibé with his
collection can
Rachel Hofer photo
WEC International

Last year the world celebrated the courage of William Wilberforce and his colleagues in forcing an end to the trans-Atlantic slave traffic 200 years ago. To our collective shame, slavery persists in today’s world, with at least 27 million men, women, and children serving as slaves—far more than the total number of slaves shipped and sold across the Atlantic.

We long for a movement of global deliverance. But meanwhile we celebrate small victories, as in the following story told by Corey and Katie, SIM workers in West Africa. One day, while visiting in a village, Corey learned that his friend Isa had sent his son Cheikh Sy to the capital city to become a taalibé . Normally, Corey would not criticize local practices, but after careful thought, he felt he must inform Isa of the reality of Cheikh Sy’s new life.

The taalibé boys come from poor village families who feel unable to feed all their children. So the father sends his five-year-old son to a Muslim religious leader called a seriñ, who takes the boys to live and work at his dara until their mid-teens. Ostensibly a school, it is primarily a profit center for the seriñ. The boys are sent out to beg for all of their own food and also for money, which they must surrender to the seriñ. If a boy does not bring back his required quota for the day, he is beaten. Most of the youngsters wander around the city in rags, barefoot and dirty, begging in the busiest traffic. (This description does not apply to all Quranic schools across Africa and the Middle East.)

Cheikh Sy
Cheikh Sy smiles again a few
days after his rescue.

The bondage of a taalibé doesn’t precisely match the classic definition of slavery, since he will eventually be allowed to leave his unpaid service to the seriñ. But his day-to-day life differs very little from that of a slave. Regular beatings, eating only what he can beg, enriching the seriñ, enduring wretched conditions—this was the reality that Corey described to Isa. And by God’s grace, Isa decided to retrieve his son.

Katie writes, “Thousands of other young boys are still in the system. Given the long-term acceptance of this practice, the path to changing it is long and complex. Please pray that God will have mercy and provide a way to end this religious enslavement of children.”

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed” Psalm 10:17,18, NIV.


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