The Almajiri system and the rights of the Nigerian Child
The Nigerian state is certainly one tough place to be a child. From the spectre of child mortality to child abuse to pure child neglect, the factors are many and hydra-headed.
Poverty is also a significant contributor to the nightmare of many Nigerian children. Any society that has anything resembling a conscience knows that in children, it has the best hope of any kind of future and so it is that whatever affects them to the extent that it shapes their lives is to be given prominent attention. This attention to children is also the hallmark of any society that is ready to build its future to be prosperous. Nigeria has struggled so much in many aspects of her national life and existence.
The struggle is still on and genuine hope is held out that one-day things will fall into place, not by any accident of fate but by the conscious efforts of Nigerians especially her leaders. For things to take shape especially in the nearest future which must never resemble anything close to the present, it is inescapable that Nigerian children would play a big role. Because they would, all aspects of their development must be given premium consideration. Everything must also be done to protect them from harm in any way possible.
The Almajiri system of Islamic education is primarily woven around children and for all the good it engenders in raising children imbued with Islamic values, that a lot of those children somehow end up on the streets, begging, is unsavoury and by all means unsightly. Street begging even for an adult is a bundle of hazards. These hazards are physiological, psychological, emotional and even spiritual. When a child for whatever reason is fed into the vicious cycle of street begging, society has a genuine problem on its hands. When such street begging has the direct encouragement of a system that draws its structure and sustenance from religion with all its conflations, a nightmare is nigh at hand. Nigeria is certainly a country of harsh religious sensibilities. Everything is seen through the lens of religion. For one thing, it has kept her people resilient in the face of a lot of difficulties. It is certainly one thing religion does and does well. Faith makes people resilient. However, religion has also had the unwanted effect of distorting reality, or at least, the perception of the same here in Nigeria. This is certainly at the root of a lot of the problems confronting the country.
The Almajiri system for all its good has left our streets with more children than we would care to have out there at any time. Children should at all times be well fed and well educated. They should wear good clothes and sleep under good roofs. They must also be extended to the best psychological and emotional support at all times. These must be given premium if we are to hope for a future better than what we have today.
The Child Rights Act was passed in 2003 by the National Assembly. It came with a host of rights convenient and conducive to the welfare of children.
For good measure, it also came with responsibilities for children themselves and sanctions for those who would violate its provisions. It is safe to say that the Child Rights Act came with all the hallmarks of a good, responsible and responsive legislation.
Some States within Nigeria have domesticated the Act, giving it teeth. But a lot of other States have bristled and balked at its provisions. Religion is decidedly behind the reluctance of most of those states. It is a genuinely disturbing situation. While the debate about the Act continues to rage, Nigerian Children continue to suffer unspeakable abuse. It is also saddening that the Act is only obeyed in breach by most of those who should know better. Children are the future. This is a universal and unchanging truth. Any country that decides to go against this truth would soon find itself to be a lie.
Kene Obiezu, wrote from Abuja.
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