In Sokoto, the Almajiri Child Rights Initiative (ACRI) recently organized the Almajiri Day Commemoration, where some of the children displayed their talents and a discourse over the system was held.
In two separate poems, two almajiri boys captured what it is like to be away from their family and have to beg for food every day.
Abdul Mande and Yusuf Shehu Ambursa, in their poems 'My Grievances" and 'Lonely Child" respectively, unburdened their hearts to the gathering in Sokoto during the commemoration of the Almajiri Day.
"I want to grieve and lament/lament not myself or my teachers but my parents and society/But first, you need to know my story/I've been sent to acquire knowledge, they say initially, but I found myself suffering instead," Mande recited. The same agony echoed in Ambursa's poem.
Conferences on the Almajiai are often held without them present, but this year's event, held on May 25, was different. The two poets set the tone for the day, and this was sustained by Professor Muhammad Mustapha Jagaba of the Faculty of Education, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto.
"These children, are they not Nigerian children? Are they not our children? Don't they have the right to attend school? Don't they have the right to good parental care? Don't they have rights to health facilities?" he said.
Jagaba urged government to rise to the occasion in providing education for the children, adding that the provision of free and compulsory basic education is meant for all children, including the Almajiri child.
An Islamic scholar, Mallam Nura Attajiri in his presentation reminded of the consequence of an uneducated horde of almajirai.
"In the next 30 years, if we allow this trend to continue, all these children who are out of school would have no education or skill, and may end up causing trouble for the society," he said.
Attajiri advised that considering the religious connection, the solution should be local. "All these rights are in our Holy Qur'an. On this issue, you need to use the very best approach. You use Islamic injunction to identify these rights in the Holy Qur'an and the tradition of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.W.A)," he said.
While calls for ban of the system continue, a medical practitioner and former commissioner for Health, Dr Balarabe Kakale thinks otherwise.
"The vision and the basis upon which the Almajiri system was founded was a very noble one. Over the years, of course it has been bastardized, but I think one thing we have to learn from the Almajiri system itself, the promoter and those who run it, is ensuring sustainability and protect it unfailingly," he said. "Almajirai's have a huge potential if we can work with them and give them education and health services. We would immediately have almost 10 million children. When these children are taken care of and the system is reformed, it would immediately have effect on almost 10 other sustainable development goals."
Kakale also disclosed that the administration of Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State had set up a committee to develop strategies on how to address the problem.
In his submission, Sokoto State Commander of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons, NAPTIP, Barrister Hassan Tahir outlined the responsibilities of his agency which he said was set up purposely to fight human trafficking of which the issue of almajiri is one of them. He noted that several almajiri children are exploited as child labourers.
He also spoke on the gender dimension to the issue: "As I speak, we have found out that girl child almajiri system exists in Sokoto State and we have informed the state government. There are some schools in which the students are mostly girls and we try to collaborate with the state government to disband it and take the children to their various homes."
On the abolition of the system, Chief Executive Officer, Jama'a Community Development Initiative, Mallam Bello A. Bello said, "It is not possible to say it can be abolished 100%, but at least, let us improve on it and make sure there is no exploitation. Whenever you see these kinds of schools, there is exploitation behind it, so we try to ensure this is minimized so that we give them what they deserve."
Mallam Bello advised government to ensure advocacy and sensitization meetings be held with community and religious leaders, as well as parents and Mallams of Quranic schools, and agree on a memorandum of understanding to integrate Qur'anic schools into the state formal education system.
However, the Sokoto State Coordinator of ACRI, Sani Dantumi, said the initiative was leaving no stone unturned to support and hold government accountable to end the systematic abuse of almajiri children and ensure their rights to childhood, better healthcare, nutrition, shelter and educational opportunities that would prepare them for a life of dignity in the 21st century.
"Last year, we formally institutionalized May 25th as the Annual Almajiri /Vulnerable Child Rights Day, as an advocacy strategy to focus the nation's attention on the Almajiri crisis and provoke necessary action by relevant stakeholders. The event received favourable feedback highlighted by a personal statement from the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Ms Amina J. Mohammed and other critical state and non-state actors," he said.
The aim of the day is to help keep the conversation around the Almajiri phenomenon in the public domain and demand for political accountability as well as pressure government into action to address the decades-long almajiri phenomenon.
"Eleven years from now, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals hopes to have eliminated hunger, ensured decent work for all, and achieved 15 more things aimed to leave no one behind. At our pace, over 10 million Almajiri children will be part of those we would have failed," he said.
The theme of the 2019 commemoration was Almajiri child rights and the SDGs.