The boys are shabbily dressed and carry begging bowls, darting between the traffic in many West African cities — or huddled in dusty alleys reciting verses from the Koran.
Sometimes they’re pitied and more often ignored. They often are the sons of poor, rural farmers, who surrender them at a young age to Islamic teachers known as marabouts in informal Koranic schools.
In northern Cameroon, however, Koranic schoolchildren are seen as a terrorist threat.
Last December, security forces arrested 84 boys from Koranic schools in northern Cameroon, some as young as 5, and since have held them without charges in a children’s detention center,...