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Religious leaders call for ending corporal punishment in Mauritania

© UNICEF Mauritania/2009
Ahmed (rear) with girl students from a Koranic school in Atar, Mauritania, after a day's hard lessons.

By Christian Skoog and Brahim Ould Isselmou

ATAR, Mauritania, 6 May 2009 – In the first hour after his arrival at a mahadra (Koranic school) in Atar, Ahmed was beaten several times. Over the next four months, he suffered daily.

His ‘Cheikh’, or teacher, used many different tools to punish Ahmed and his friends. Some of the boys who are considered troublemakers were tied up to the trunks of trees and left outside for hours, suffering from the heat and hunger.

“I pray to Allah that I no longer have to wear my torn shirt to cover the scars on my back,” said Ahmed.

Turning to the Imams’ Network
In this country, as in many others, corporal punishment is widespread in mahadras and secular primary schools, and within families. It is considered a suitable and effective educational method.

UNICEF Mauritania analyzed this widespread phenomenon in order to find the best way to address it. Given the pre-eminent position of religious leaders in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, a partnership with the Imams’ and Religious Leaders’ Network for Child Rights was deemed an appropriate entry point.

This approach is also in line with the recommendations of the UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children, which urges close collaboration with community and religious leaders.

No basis in the Koran
For its part, the Imams’ Network carried out a study to assess whether corporal punishment is allowed in Islam. The evidence was overwhelming: The study found that violence has no place in the Koran.

© UNICEF Mauritania/2009
UNICEF Representative in Mauritania Christian Skoog, local authorities and the President of the Imams’ and Religious Leaders’ Network for Child Rights, Hademine Ould Saleck, attend a workshop on ending corporal punishment.

The results of the study will now form the basis of a fatwa (religious edict) barring physical and verbal violence against children in the educational system, including in the home.

“The evidence that corporal punishment is forbidden by Islam is clear and abiding for all of us,” declared Imams’ Network President Hademine Ould Saleck. “Let us stop arguing. We don’t have a choice, and we must apply Sharia [Islamic law], which fully protects children”.

‘A powerful tool’
A regional workshop to validate the study was held 20-21 April in Atar. Among the participants were 30 Imams from the Adrar and Inchiri regions, as well as UNICEF Representative in Mauritania Christian Skoog.

“We have to use this fatwa prohibiting corporal punishment as a powerful tool to disseminate and put an end to violence in mahadras, schools and religious events,” said Mr. Skoog.

This child-rights initiative coincides with the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the scaling up of the country programme in Mauritania. In fact, the regional workshop kicked off a series of commemorative events.



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