BBC reveals thousands of boys chained, tortured and abused in Islamic schools across Sudan

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 October 2020:

A BBC News Arabic investigation has uncovered systemic child abuse inside Islamic schools in Sudan. There are nearly 30,000 Islamic schools, known as “khalwas” across Sudan.

The investigation, “The Schools that Chain Boys”, has found that boys as young as five-years-old are routinely chained, shackled and beaten by the “sheikhs”, or religious men in charge of the schools. The investigation also found evidence of sexual abuse.

For 18 months undercover reporter Fateh al-Rahman al-Hamdani – who used to study at a khalwa himself – secretly filmed inside 23 khalwas across Sudan. He found boys shackled and chained and witnessed brutal routine beatings. Many of the children were malnourished and living in squalid conditions, forced to sleep on the floor in extreme heat. Sick children were left without medical help.

At the heart of the BBC investigation are two boys – Mohamed Nader and Ismail – who were beaten so badly they nearly died. The boys were imprisoned and tortured for five days in their khalwa without food or water and had tar rubbed into their wounds.

A few months into his recovery, Mohamed Nader reveals that he witnessed boys being raped inside the khalwa by older students. “The worst thing about the khalwa is the rape. They make you go against your will.”

When the BBC confronted the sheikh in charge of the boys’ khalwa he admitted that it was wrong to imprison the children but maintained that beating and shackling were “packed with benefits” and that “most khalwas use chaining, not just me.” When asked about allegations of sexual abuse he categorically denied these claims and accused our reporter of attacking the Koran. The sheikh died in a car accident earlier this year.

The film follows the boys’ recoveries and their families’ fight for justice as they take on the sheikhs who wield huge power and influence in Sudan. Mohamed Nader’s mother, Fatima, hopes that since the 2018 revolution and the ousting of Omar al Bashir’s Islamist government, they stand a better chance of holding those in charge of the khalwas accountable. “Must we sacrifice our children to honour the religious men?”, she asks in the BBC documentary.

During the course of the investigation, the BBC came across further reports of rape and sexual abuse in other khalwas. A forensic doctor, who examined three boys that recently escaped from one of Sudan’s many khalwas, told the BBC that boys were repeatedly raped: “I asked them ‘“How were you raped?” They said, “Sometimes our families visit us, they rape us just before they arrive.”

The investigation reveals that it’s not only children who are being abused. In a khalwa in central Sudan, the BBC filmed grown men chained to their beds, supposedly being treated for mental illness and addiction. One man told our undercover reporter, “They chain you up and beat you with a stick like a donkey… we are their slaves.”

In Sudan state prosecutors are obliged to take on all cases of crimes against children but when they take place inside khalwas the authorities are slow to act. When asked whether the beating, shackling and torture of children inside khalwas are considered a violation of children’s rights, a Public Prosecutor in Omdurman, Batool Sharif Ahmed, told the BBC “This is just normal practice inside khalwas. These children are sent to the khalwa with the consent of their parents.”

In the case of Mohamed Nader and Ismail the police arrested the sheikh in charge of the school and three other teachers. They were charged with assault and perverting the course of justice and released on bail. The khalwa remains open and the new sheikh in charge told the BBC that under his management the beating of children would not be tolerated.

At the time of publication, thousands of children are still at risk of being abused inside khalwas. The Minister of Religious Affairs told BBC News Arabic that they are assessing the state of khalwas across the country but that it is impossible to “solve a problem caused by 30 years of the old regime overnight.”

Full documentary available to watch at this link, watch the short cut here now.

The Schools that Chain Boys


  1. These are heart breaking stories that you think belong to the dark ages. Then you ask yourself where are the parents of these children? But if you think these barbaric practices taking place in these Khalwas or Islamic schools are limited to the Sudan, spare a thought for the same abuses reported against young boys sent to madrasahs or Islamic schools in Muslim dominated Northern Nigerian states. Or the street children of the DR Congo, or our own spate of rape cases reported against young girls and women in Sierra Leone. There are both international and national laws in every country that signed up to international convention for the protection of children.

    But where states are weak, and corruption is rife, government institutions tend to be ill-equipped to be enforcing local or national laws, never mind international conventions. Like Sierra Leone’s rampant corruption, in the Sudan it is one of the reasons why the youths rose up against Omar Al Bashir’s government which ultimately led to his overthrow. Corruption undermines and removes the glue that holds states together. In other words – all norms and conventions that define civility are tossed out of the window. Because abusers will always flout the laws, and know if they grease the palm of an enforcement officer, they can get away with their crime or better still get away with murder.

    To that end, the very institutions that are meant to enforce the laws of the state, that protect the most vulnerable in society become obsolete. Because of corruption, the government can no longer guarantee the rights of its citizens. And in vast majority of cases the first casualties of the failure of the state to uphold it citizens’ rights and provide security for them, are women and children. The Sudan might have their Khalwas problems, but in Sierra Leone we have our own problems. We might be reading about the Sudan, it could be happening in our neighbourhood. Who knows? May God bless Sierra Leone.

  2. The ancient saying that “A man is a product of his environment” is without doubt, a rare a priceless gem that needs not be polished in order for any logical mind to be able to truly comprehend its intrinsic value and worth. This statement of fact can be likened to a double edge sword sharpened on each side that cuts both ways. Now here’s one of those lights emanating brilliantly from within such an priceless gem – Man it says, is nothing but the end result of all the influences and conditions under which he was raised and nurtured – Absolutely true! Now let us flip this precious gemstone again, and carefully examine another interesting luminescent light glowing from inside its uncommon depths- A man can literally become just like the natural elements in his everyday environment it says.

    But is it really true Stargazer? Of course it is! The ancient barbaric tribes in the Middle ages were said to be as cruel and harsh as the severe Winters they experienced in those times – If Nature will not show us any mercy and be gentle with us, neither will we be kind also they said – they were merciless warriors and the most vicious mercenaries your harmless eyes have ever seen. The same thing applies to the Sudan. It is the only country that I think resembles the largest most measureless maximum security prison of cruelty in the world; Almost all of its timid citizens especially those who are poor are strictly under mass incarceration it seems – there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide and no shoulders to cry on but your own.

    Islamic law dictates, guides and keeps a watchful eye over the entire nation just like the two unforgiving deserts the Libyan and Nubian that are strategically positioned by Mother nature like remorseless Sentries in war zones vigilantly standing guard preventing anyone, and anything from escaping. The scorching desert, the authorities and the people – one and the same, I commend the BBC’s courageous efforts in trying to expose the crimes against children being committed in the Sudan by some religious fanatics hell-bent on distorting the real untainted and sacred message of Islam. Nowhere in Islam does it say children must be bullied and abused as a form of discipline – only a twisted, devilish, barbaric mind would believe such a repulsive act is right. Islam encourages us all to cherish, nourish and protect children for they are the best of Allah’s generous gifts to mankind.

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