Terrifying undercover footage by the BBC’s Arabic arm revealed gut-wrenching tragic scenes inside the centers for Islamic learning in Sudan called Khalwas where young boys are systematically tortured in animalistic magnitudes.
Shocking video footage shot undercover from 2018 was released by the media giant’s Arabic arm giving a glimpse of the blasphemy practiced by the religious schools that are celebrated in the region for delivering free education.
Repots of child violence from these institutions are common in Sudan, where over 30,000 of them reportedly operate. But rarely has been such an apparent glimpse of the torture revealed to the public.
Young boys, sometimes as little as five, were seen routinely chained on feet, sometimes eight-to-ten together, and are routinely whipped by the teachers called ‘sheiks’ in these Islamic centers of learning, the investigation revealed.
The BBC Arabic’s Fateh Al-Rahman Al-Hamdani — a former Khalwa student — went into 23 Khalwas undercover to film the horrors for 18 months. Reports of rapes also came up.
“Sometimes they chain six or seven of us together and make us run. We fall over, they whip us and we get up again,” a student in one of the centers told the BBC, whose identity was kept anonymous.
Sheiks could be seen mercilessly whipping young boys in the schools, often because they have mistaken to pronounce the Koran, or for ‘bad behaviors.’ The terrifying sound of the whip touching the skin of often decapitated children was audible in the footage.
“If I don’t beat them they don’t memorize,” a Shiekh told the BBC who was kept anonymous. One Khalwa was particularly notable for its cruelty, where a boy named Mohamed Nader nearly died of brutal torture.
In the same Khalwa, more children were chained than any other visited during the span of the investigation and it reportdely had a prison.
Md. Nader’s parents chose to speak out of the brutality, despite the powerful influence the Sheikhs and the Khalwas wield on the community that shields them from the crimes. His case was highlighted in the BBC investigation.
Nader’s body was smeared with whip inflations, bloody and sore, which many would find uncomfortable to even look at.He says, he was laid down on stomach, mouth sealed, before whipping him mercilessly.
“I can’t forgive what happened to may son. I want the whole world to know about this,” Nader’s parent was quoted as saying. The boy was reportedly tortured for 5 days inside a Khalwa prison, with no food and water.
Mohamed’s mother is determined to seek justice for her son because now she believes has the power under the new government, which was earlier not the case.
Two sheikhs have been charged for torturing Nader. But the hearing has been already postponed five times.
Under the new Sudanese government, victims like Nader’s family have received assurance that the center will help crackdown the systematic torture in the Khalwas.
As per the government’s Minister of Religious Affairs, Khalwas will be shut down if found violating human rights and inflicting torture on the children.
But despite the promise, many Khalwas with evident systematic torture continue to remain open. “Chaining has been going on in Sudan since ancient times,” Shiekh Hussein, in-charge of the Khalwa where Nader studied told the BBC journalist under anonymity.
He pressed that most Khalwas use chaining and it is not just him. ‘I was chained myself,’ he said, adding ‘I even chained my son.’ Hussein died shortly after the interview was filmed.
Md. Nader is now under physical recovery, but is phobic about returning to schools. After Shiekh Hussain passed away, his brother took charge of the Khalwa. He said the torture has stopped. But this just one case in one of the 30k Khalwas operational in Sudan.
Sundan is not the only place where reports of torture emerged from. Similar instance were reported from religious schools in Nigeria, Senegal and Pakistan in recent years.