Almajiri Too Are Children of Nigeria: Their Rights Ought To Be Protected
Welcome address by the Executive Director of Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED), Comrade Dr. Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi at the Public Presentation of a Research Report; Shackled To The Past: An Exploration Of The Best Prospects For Combatting Forced Child Begging In Nigeria.
Our respected partners, distinguished invited guests, stakeholders from the human and child rights community, our ever-dependable colleagues from the media, fellows from the civil society organizations’, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a great privilege to welcome you all to this public presentation of the report of our research report; Shackled To The Past: An Exploration Of The Best Prospects For Combatting Forced Child Begging In Nigeria.
Since 2018, CHRICED in partnership with Anti-Slavery International, the world’s oldest human rights organization working to free people from all forms of slavery has been implementing a research and advocacy project to combat the drivers of forced child begging in Northern Nigeria. This project which was made possible through the support of the United States Bureau of Human Rights and Labor (DRL), focused on understanding the details of what has worked well and what has not worked so well with reference to the various state and non-state interventions on forced child begging in Northern Nigeria.
Before going on to discuss the details of the project and the research report being presented today, permit me to share a story which closely mirrors the realities faced by the multitude of children being forced to beg on the streets of Northern Nigeria.
Back in 2018, CHRICED project team was returning from an activity in Zaria when we spotted a little boy of about five years on the highway. All on his own, he was trekking as vehicles drove past at break-neck speed. Members of our team decided to stop to enquire what such a little boy was doing all on his own on the highway. The boy responded that he was on his way to Kano! The distance from Zaria to Kano is about 157km, and the little boy insisted he was going to make the journey on foot. We probed further, and discovered that the boy’s insistence on trekking all the way to Kano was the result of the deprivations he had been suffering as an Almajiri child. He wanted to at all cost reunite with his parents who he narrated live in Kano. So the little boy in question was willing to risk it all to get back to a normal life of warmth and love in the care of his parents. We had to take him in the car to Kano, and then handed him over to the police to trace his parents. We shudder to imagine if this boy in question was found by people with bad intentions.
The story of this particular boy definitely reflects the crisis faced by many street children who are sent out of their homes to go and acquire religious knowledge. Many become victims of exploitative tendencies including forced child begging.
The massive scale of the problem of forced child begging in Nigeria, is a fact of everyday existence, especially in Northern Nigeria. No amount of statistical data can better describe the enormity of the problem than the disturbing everyday experience of seeing hordes of hungry, undernourished, and barely clad children roaming the streets of major cities in the North of Nigeria.
These children are supposed to be young pupils of Qur’anic schools pursuing the goal of acquiring religious knowledge. However, the reality of the collapse of the ancient system of religious education means the Qur’anic teachers (or Mallams) have no means of fending for the pupils in their care. They have resorted therefore to sending out the children to beg to sustain both the Mallam and the almajirai themselves.
Ostensibly in the keep of their Mallam, these children spend almost all their day in the streets and in market places, and spend their night wherever they find to lay their heads. Thus, these children are effectively abandoned by their parents and exploited by their Mallams. Further, they are largely condemned to a future life of poverty and hardship; this is because the Islamic education they receive equips them with few skills usable in the modern economy.
This has transformed the almajiranci system of education — previously the foundation for the generational transmission of Islamic culture — into a means of child abuse, specifically exploitation, neglect, and impoverishment.
The horrendous human rights abuses suffered by children as a result of the problem of forced child begging have elicited various responses at the level of state and non-state actors. Notwithstanding the quantum of government and non-governmental resources, which have gone into finding solutions to the problem, the scale continues to be daunting.
Little wonder, Nigeria continues to retain its position as the country with the highest number of out of school children in the entire world.
The research report being presented today is not focused on further agonizing about the problem. Its objective is to come to terms with what has and what has not worked with respect to interventions aimed at reducing the problem of forced child begging and the related abuses suffered by children. With an understanding of what has worked and what failed to work, CHRICED and ASI believe that government, civil society, the media and other stakeholders connected to the child protection sector, will have the benefit of hindsight when designing and developing future interventions.
Ironically, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated poverty, and disrupted whatever is left of the livelihoods of the poorest of the poor, the plight of vulnerable groups like the Almajiri is receiving no effective attention from the government. Instead, there has been a state-sanctioned series of attacks on the rights of Almajiri children. This has taken the form of raids, and forceful transportation to so-called states of origin.
At the height of the pandemic from between March to August, Northern states competed amongst themselves in forcefully transporting groups of Almajiri children to the boundaries of the states they had supposedly come from. In a bid to show they were fighting the virus, many Northern governors quickly targeted and made scape goats of Almajiri children.
Such knee-jerk reactions have not solved the problems, as these children continue to be present on the streets of the major cities in the North.
Given the huge scale of the problem, we believe stakeholder response to the Almajiri situation in Nigeria must be driven by a collective and sustainable response. Such a collective effort from state and non-state actors, we believe should be motivated by the notion of Almajiri as holders of fundamental rights, which must be protected and promoted by duty-bearers.
The Almajiri question is one that all actors within and outside government can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to. This point becomes even more pertinent when the extent of insecurity confronting Nigeria is put in the proper context.
As we speak, the gory stories of the activities of armed bandits, kidnappers and other violent criminals in the North West, have become staple for daily news updates. In the North East, the Boko Haram insurgency continues to rage. In the North Central, the activities of herdsmen continue to undermine security of lives and peaceful co-existence. The reality of over 10 million children wandering the streets, with no education, healthcare and other basic necessities to make them a proper part of society amounts to yet another recipe for future violent conflicts.
In the end, the millions of children roaming the streets are children of this country. This is part of the reason our research makes recommendations to the government (federal and state), multilateral institutions, and civil society organizations to take a deeper interest in the fate of the Almajiri children.
Such specific priority areas will include education, enforcement of their fundamental rights, and engaging local initiatives, which would provide sustainable pathways to find lasting solutions to the plight of these children.
CHRICED is hopeful that everyone here would find the time to use the findings of this report to engage the key processes, which will lead to an effective and sustainable resolution of the Almajiri crisis.
On this note, permit me to extend our heartfelt gratitude to our partner Anti-Slavery International (ASI) for their technical support and great collaboration, which has made this partnership a productive one. My words of appreciation also go to the US DRL for identifying forced child begging in Nigeria as an issue of utmost priority, which should be engaged in strategic ways. I will also like to acknowledge and thank the Board of Directors of CHRICED, led by the Chairman Professor Momodu Kassim-Momodu, whose leadership of the Board has provided strategic direction for the work we are doing at CHRICED. And finally to all the staff at the CHRICED Secretariat whose commitment and dedication make great things happen, your efforts are indeed valued.
Thank you for listening. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
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