The outbreak of the global pandemic (Corona Virus or COVID-19) has brought about a change in world affairs. People are now thinking of humanity and everyone, irrespective of race, culture and religion is collaboratively fighting one common enemy. All countries have their different approach of dealing with the situation, with regards to managing the spread of the virus, caring for infected persons and supporting the citizens, while they observe the stay-at-home measure. While talking of humanity here, it is important to recognize the vulnerable Almajiri children, whose plight have been that of neglect, denial, abuse, inequality, to say the least.

The Almajiri malignancy in the north is an abused version of an age-old tradition of learning. It has been a disaster to the children whose parents hide under the guise of religion by sending their children far away to seek Islamic knowledge, thereby absolving themselves from taking responsibility for the child’s welfare. The government over the years has chosen either to be short sighted on this issue or take makeshift measures, which has seen the situation go worse over time.

In the midst of this COVID-19 outbreak, when the government at both federal and state level is taking measures to curtail the spread, the Almajiri children in most northern states still roam about the neighborhood, begging and doing menial jobs, just to survive. In Niger state for example, the governor gave a directive to all traditional rulers to instruct all mallams having Almajiri schools to close up, and send the children home. But a survey shows that the directive given by the governor of the state is either being flaunted intentionally or that the traditional rulers did not instruct the mallams accordingly. Even the FCT is no different, as Almajiri children are seen roaming about. They have no idea what social distancing means or the necessity of keeping a clean hygiene; they just go about their daily activities unaware of the crisis looming. We have received similar complaints from observers in other northern states; some mallams have been said to chase away NGOs and individuals, who want to sensitize the children about practicing social distancing and clean hygiene. Should one Almajiri child become exposed to coronavirus, the country will be in complete disarray, because the rate of infection will overwhelm the government.

In the emergence of covid-19 and the economic crises it portends to nations and individuals, what is the fate of the Almajiri child? How will they get by this difficult time? As the world focuses attention on the vulnerable, isn’t it also time for the government and stakeholders to do something for these vulnerable children, first to protect them from exposure and then, cater to their welfare? Amidst all of the insufficient measures taken by the government over the years, doesn’t this current world menace offer a justifiable reason why the government needs to work with NGOs to liberate the Almajiri child? Too many questions to ask, but there has only been too much talking and too much lip service, isn’t it time we started acting?

 Think covid-19, think almajirenci

#Their health matters

#Their life matters

#Their education matters

# think-humanity

 el’tahir (on behalf of the Almajiri child rights initiative)

Note: The Almajiri system is an Islamic educational system practiced in Northern Nigeria. Introduced to the region through Kanem-Borno around the 11th century, the system was designed to foster the cause of Islamic learning. Prior to the British Colonization of the region, the children under the Almajiri tutelage lived at home with their parents and attended tsangayu, due to the close proximity of the schools to the pupils. It is noteworthy that these schools were funded via the state treasury, the communities, parents etc. However, with the coming of the British and the subsequent disbandment of the Emir system in the region, the Almajiri system collapsed. Over time, the British set up large urban centers, which saw many malammai migrate from the rural regions to these urban center; ushering the advent of parents sending children across state lines to study under the Almajiri system. However, the teachers and students received no financial support and resulted in begging for alms and engaging in menial labour for survival. Over time, the practice of alms begging became normalized.

Over the years, the issue of Almajiri and unaccompanied minors has remained a puzzling question in the course of Nation building, especially with regards to their welfare. To provide context, in 2009, Sokoto and Zamfara States were reported to have had three times as many Quaranic students as students in the formal education system i.e. 3 times as many children whose survival depended on begging alms.

During this pandemic, State Governments with prominent Almajiri presence have resulted in mass deportation of these children to their home state (which technically is a violation of the fundamental rights to live and work in any part of the country) as a means to curb the spread of the virus. With the Almajiri living in already deplorable conditions and the WHO stance on sanitization as a primary tool to flatten the spread of the virus, many feared that if just one Almajiri child were to contact the virus, it would prove disastrous. Those fears are slowly being realized as the Kaduna State government announced that of its 59 active cases of COVID-19, 50 of those are Almajiri children deported from Kano.

Post script by Amaka Obi, Communications Officer, Global Rights.