The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has asked state governments in northern Nigeria to develop and implement a programme that would permanently address the challenges posed by the almajiri system of education.
The plan should cater for the transfer, return and rehabilitation of almajiri children, the commission said.
The request followed the controversy trailing the forced relocation of almajiris across states, amidst the spread of COVID-19.
Many of the street kids searching for Islamic knowledge across the north have been infected by the deadly virus in recent weeks as state governments scramble to send them back to their respective states.
Thousands of Koranic school children were recently crammed into open vans and sent back home from cities and towns across northern Nigeria in a controversial move by state governments to prevent the spread of coronavirus within their territories.
As the children arrived in their home states, some of them were quarantined and tested.
The results caused widespread consternation. PREMIUM TIMES reported how about 16 of those recently sent back from Kano to Jigawa tested positive to the virus.
Of the 169 tested in Kaduna, 65 were positive, as were 91 of another 168 tested in Jigawa. Hundreds of test results are still being awaited.
In an advisory on Friday, Tony Ojukwu, the executive secretary of the right commission, said the children are exposed to danger hence the need for a permanent plan that will address their situation.
Mr Ojukwu said the children suffer multiple violations of human rights which is contrary to the constitution, the child’s right act and other laws.
Almajiri is ideally a system of Islamic education practiced in northern Nigeria, where young children leave their homes to live with Islamic scholars and learn about the religion.
However, the system has over the years been corrupted with thousands of such children roaming the streets of Northern Nigeria as beggars and without any form of education.
The system has been blamed for significantly contributing to the over 10 million out of school children in Nigeria.
“Almajiri children are exposed to increased vulnerabilities and risks, including death, trafficking, kidnapping, drug use and addiction, recruitment into terrorism, violent crimes, sexual and other forms of assaults and forced/child marriages,” the official said in the statement.
The commission called on Northern states’ governments to develop a “multi-sectoral program of action for the transfer, return and rehabilitation of Almajiri children”.
A major step towards achieving this will be an obligation on the part of affected states to; “put in place financial, institutional and programmatic frameworks to urgently address the needs of the Almajiri children,” the statement said.
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The Commission also called for “adequate protection programs, basic support services and empowerment programmes to address poverty and other socio-economic vulnerabilities that made the parents to send out the children in the first place.”
The three paged advisory enjoined States to, “put in place adequate plans for the enrolment and retention of Almajiri children in schools, including access to existing programmes such as school feeding and free education aimed at addressing the educational needs of the children in line with their rights to basic and compulsory education as guaranteed under the CRA and the Universal Basic Education Act.”
Many Nigerians have called for the abolition of the almajiri system, saying it has become a breeding ground for insurgents and religious extremists.
President Muhammadu Buhari had said he was planning to ban the ‘almajiri’ system in Northern Nigeria but will not do so immediately.
The administration of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan established and spent billions of Naira for the construction of almajiri schools across Northern states
The plan was to get the children from the streets into formal classrooms. The then vice president, Namadi Sambo, had said there were over 9.5 million almajiris in the country who were not participating in the basic school education system.
The plan, however, failed largely because it was poorly managed.
Meanwhile, many of the northern state governors said they are poised to scrap the almajirai-based Koranic schools or at least modernise it.
Kano recently said it would embark on major reforms of the system.
“We’ve been looking for ways and means to end this system because it has not worked for the children. It has not worked for northern Nigeria and it has not worked for Nigeria. So, it has to end and this is the time,” Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, also recently said.
“It is better to give the almajirai some kind of modern education than to allow them to waste their lives away, roaming about the streets begging for what to eat,” he noted.