by Aminu Yahuza, Esq.
Many scholars believe that the word Almajiri has arabic origin. The etymology of the word is from the word almuhajir which means a migrant or in popular Islamic context someone who accompanied the prophet[Peace be upon him] from Mecca to Medina when he fled the persecution of the people of Mecca.
But to a typical Hausa speaker, Almajiri is someone on a scholastic sojourn moving from one town to another seeking Islamic knowledge. Almajiri is widely practiced in West Africa and in some Central African states but it is more prevalent in northern Nigeria
The system has bred many scholars of repute, standing and it helped in mass Ajami literacy before the coming of the colonialists among the people of the area known as Bilad as Sudan [covering Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Niger Ghana, Chad and Cameroon] and aided the seamless bureaucratic functions, economic activities, religious education and many other social development.
However the system, by it is nature, is incompatible with today’s world due to some social changes and our regime of laws. It is well known that it is the practice of the system that children are sent to Malam[teacher] as pupil sometimes at tender age i.e. from the age of four and are required to fend for themselves.
We are living witnesses to how such pupils live in very pathetic conditions, and how they are being deprived of their human dignity and how they are made by condition to scavenge food from waste with no proper clothing, hygiene and shelter.
The Malams may even ask the pupils a sort of allowance that they will be paying meaning that they have to engage in economic production to be able to raise such money and many more gory stories we often hear about them.
In modern world, Children have a right to be taken care of right from when they were conceived, born and up to the time when they reach majority age (18 years). They should be protected against any social or traditional practices that are prejudicial to them. The first of such attempt to protect children against exploitative and cultural practices that are prejudicial to them is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 under article 25(2) and article 26, though it only provided for right to special care and assistance without taking the rights one after the other.
In 1966 a Declaration Principle was adopted by United Nation General Assembly stressing that
“Mankind owes to the child the best it has to give”,
The convention affirmed the rights of the child to receive special protection, to be given opportunities and facilities to enable him to develop in a healthy and normal manner, to enjoy the benefit of the social security including adequate nutrition, housing, recreation and medical services to receive education and to be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation.
This was subsequently reaffirmed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights adopted in 1966. Then came the united nation convention on the rights of the child 1989 (CRC) this reaffirmed what earlier convention established and make the principles binding on all the states party to it.
In regional level there is the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Children (ACRWC) 1990 it just built on CRC, in it is preamble it states the position of child in Africa thus:
“The child occupies a unique and privilege position in the African society and requires legal protection and particular care with regard to health, physical, moral and social development”
It further states in article 13 to 29 that children should be protected against torture, maltreatment, begging, economic exploitation and harmful social and cultural practices.
Nigeria enacted its law called Child Rights Act 2003 in response to its obligation under International Law that made the principles under( CRC) and (ACRWC) binding on her.
Child rights Act 2003 is a replication of the above conventions and chatters mutatis mutandis with some necessary changes here and there, Section 11 of the Act provides that every child must be accorded dignity and no child shall be subjected to physical, mental, emotional injury, abuse, neglect or maltreatment, held in slavery or servitude including sexual abuses.
Section 14 of the act provided for the right of care and maintenance to the extent of the parents’ means, and the child has the right in an appropriate circumstances to enforce the right in family court. Then section 15 talks about right to free and compulsory secular education up to JSS 3.
In a more robust development toward eradicating this traditional exploitation of children some northern states like Kano and Nasarawa have taken action by making a policy statement prohibiting street begging in their states and took steps to actualize it. For instance in pursuance of the of the policy statement Vanguard Nigeria reported on 26th February. 2020. that Kano state governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje banned street begging and gave direction that Any Almajiri found begging within the shores of Kano be arrested and that English language and arithmetic be included in their curriculum.
On the other hand Nasarawa state government gave a deportation order against any person found begging and as at the time of writing this article over 30000 Almajiris were returned to their states of origin as reported by Daily Ttrust of 5th march, 2020.
It can be seen that the practice of almajirci is in total disagreement with the present world—a world that takes the child’s rights very serious.
Parents are sending their wards to Almajiri School without any provision and no visitation or anything of parent son relationship between the child and the parent, it is even believed that some parents send their children to Almajiri schools to avoid responsibility.
When a child is sent to such schools the child has to man up or do whatever to ensure his survival as the saying goes that the first law of nature is survival so begging for alms, food, clothes and any other necessaries of life became the means to an end to them. They usually grow up without knowing any skill that can sustain their lives after the sojourn making them susceptible and ready tool to use in causing mayhem to the community that does not act timely in addressing their plight.
Some reliable security report has it that the insecurity bedeviling the north from all angles are all spillover effect of the system. It is clear that the system has outlived it optimal usage and should be abolished.
A law should be made to categorically make it an offence for anyone to keep an Almajiri with him in a traditional way since it infringes on the rights of the child and lawyers should start taking parents to courts to enforce the child’s right to maintenance against his parents or guardians.
More people should also partake in campaigning against the culture by holding awareness campaigns and sponsoring Bills at the National and States House of Assemblies aimed at addressing the menace.
In particular governments should know that it is their responsibility as the custodian of their citizens to make sure no child is disadvantaged by cultural reasons. This is the only way we can address their plights as concerned citizens and get a solution to our security problems. I bet this will be a win-win situation.
Yahuza writes from Kano, Nigeria. He can be reached on 09031150419, firstname.lastname@example.org