Investigating Schools in Sudan that Chain Boys


In Sudan, Khalwas are Islamic schools in which children are taught to memorize the Qur’an. The schools have existed in Sudan for centuries. Throughout the State, around 30,000 Khalwas exist where children are taught.

Sheiks or religious men run the Islamic schools and provide shelter, drink, and food to students free of charge. Because the institutions offer these amenities, numerous poor families often send their children to the Khalwas instead of public schools.

Over the years, allegations claiming that some Khalwas keep children in chains, beat, and sexually abuse them emerged. Fateh Al-Rahman Al-Hamdani, a reporter for BBC News Arabic, decided to investigate the allegations. In 2018 Mr. Fateh began what would become a two-year investigation into Khalwas.

He visited 23 different Khalwas across Sudan during his investigation, where he secretly filmed what he saw. When his investigation started back in 2018, he did not have proper undercover equipment.  The reporter hence had to tape his phone inside a notebook to film secretly.

Mr. Fateh revealed that he himself had learned at a Khalwa. During his time at the school, he would try and get through each day without being beaten. Due to his experience at the school, he felt that his assignment was personal.

Investigating Khalwas in Sudan

As the months went by, Fateh learned to time his visits to the schools to coincide with evening prayers. He would enter Khalwas while sheiks and the students were busy praying. Boys studying in the schools were dressed in white djellabas.

What was most shocking about what he saw at the schools was that some children had been shackled like animals. When some of the children knelt to pray, the clanking of chains shackled to their legs could be heard. Additionally, some children as young as five years had been beaten until deep, raw wounds had formed.

Disturbing cases

In one case back in 2018, Mr. Fateh visited a well-respected Khalwa in Darfur called Ahmed Hanafy. He saw a small boy in a study room under a hot corrugated iron roof being held down and whipped at the institutions. The young boy was whipped more than 30 times by a teacher. The boy’s cries of anguish and the sound of the lashing whip were the only sounds heard in the room.

In a different disturbing case, Mr. Fateh came into contact with two 14-year-old boys. Mohamed Nader and Ismail were in the hospital when Fateh first met them. The two boys were lying on their stomachs, unconscious with their backs stripped of flesh.

The boys had been caught trying to escape the Al-Khulafaa Rashideen Khalwa run by a Sheikh named Hussein. They were taken and kept in a room with barred windows for five days without food or water. Afterward, the two were beaten for days by different people while the rest of the Khalwa was asleep. The beatings and torture got so bad one time that the boys nearly died and were taken to hospital. Mohamed Nader had been so badly beaten that someone could see his spine.

Due to the influence that sheiks hold, most families in Sudan rarely seek justice for their children. Mohamed Nader’s parents, however, decided to press charges.



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