Sudan: Children abused sexually, shackled in chains in Islamic schools

Thousands of children, some as young as 5-years-old are routinely beaten, tortured, sexually abused, shackled in heavy chains in Islamic schools, known as Khalwas, across Sudan in Northeast Africa, a documentary by BBC News Arabic has revealed.

The shocking revelation came after a journalist working in Sudan for BBC, who was a former khalwa student himself, secretly filmed visits to 23 schools across Sudan over an 18-month period, documenting the routine abuse.

The footage which showed malnourished, unhealthy children being forced to sleep on the floor, inside the Khalwas, even in sweltering conditions has been time and again shared by the news channel. It shows students, some as young as five-years-old, shackled in heavy iron chains and being physically abused. The teachers reportedly whip the children for the slightest of their mistakes.

One of the victims revealed: “We can be in groups of six or seven all chained together, and they [the sheikhs] make us run around in circles. Whenever one of us falls over we have to get up again because they keep whipping us … They say that this is good for us.”

The reports also suggest that the younger boys in these Islamic schools are regularly raped by older students. These Islamic schools are managed by Sheikhs, who are politically so well connected that the impoverished families of these children seldom muster up the courage to register a complaint against the school authorities.

For the uninitiated, Khalwas are traditional Islamic schools in Sudan where children are taught to memorise the Quran. The Islamic schools, which number more than 30,000 across Sudan, are typically run by sheikhs and provide students with food, drink and shelter, for free.

The documentary mainly exposes how two minor boys, Mohamed Nader and Ismail, were imprisoned and tortured for five days, without being given food or water in one Khalwa, al-Khulafaa al-Rashideen, run by some Sheikh Hussein. The boys, who the reporter Al-Hamdani visited in the hospital, were nearly beaten to death.

‘Beating is packed with benefits,’ claims owner of Khalwa

Speaking to the channel, the owner of the school had reportedly admitted that the 14-year-olds had been imprisoned, shackled and beaten in his Khalwa. Though he conceded that hitting the children were wrong, he insisted that the practice of beating and shackling was “packed with benefits”. However, he denied that sexual abuse had been taking place.

Though Sheikh Hussein denied allegations that sexual abuse, including rape, had taken place in his school, one of the victims Mohamed Nader told the BBC the practice was widespread and that he had seen boys being raped by older students of the Islamic school.

Meanwhile, according to the report, four people, including three teachers and the head of the school, Sheikh Hussein, were charged over Mohamed Nader and Ismail’s case, but all were later released on bail and are yet to face trial.

Mohamed Nader’s mother has hoped that after the removal of the Sudanese politician and dictator Omar al-Bashir’s government last year, these atrocities on the children would end and the families of the victims would have a better chance to bringing those responsible to justice.

Though authorities are evaluating the state of Khalwas across Sudan, the minister of religious affairs said that it was impossible to “solve a problem caused by 30 years of the old regime overnight”.

Islam­ic gov­ern­ment of Sudan helping mili­tia groups in the persecution of minorities

Since its independence in 1956, Sudan has been ravaged by war. For years, activists have charged the Islam­ic gov­ern­ment of Sudan with sup­port­ing Arab mili­tia groups which in turn attack Chris­t­ian and tra­di­tion­al­ist areas of south­ern Sudan and force the African cap­tives into slav­ery. 



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