Passing Child Destitution Bill will better address the almajiri phenomenon

Child destitution bill summary

The recent proposition by the Nigerian government to ban the almajiri phenomenon in Nigeria is getting criticised. But a speedy passage of the Child Destitution Bill before the National Assembly can help address this societal challenge.

The bill provides for the creation of the National Commission on Child Destitution, which would ensure the welfare of destitute children are taken care of while they also have access to quality education. learnt that the bill, which has been before the National Assembly since 2017 had passed first and second reading but was not among those given accelerated attention before the 8th National Assembly ended earlier in June.

Almajiri is derived from an Arabic word that means ‘migrants’. It used to refer to children who were sent out of their homes to acquire Islamic and Qur’anic knowledge.

Over the recent years, the schooling system also known as Tsangaya has been associated with street begging and child labour as the children as young as four are left on streets of distant towns from their families to fend for themselves.

Recent records from the Federal Ministry of Education show that there are close to 10.2 million out of school children in Nigeria. About half of them are from states in Northern Nigeria where the almajiri phenomenon is prevalent.

Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari last week alluded to the possibility of the almajiri destitute child being willing tools for criminal elements to perpetuate insecurity in the country.

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He noted that access to basic education is a right protected by Nigerian laws for children and his government was willing to defend that.

Mr Buhari however clarified that the proposed ban would not be immediate following a backlash to the proposal by members of the public. He challenged state governments to provide conducive environments for quality education.

Multiple laws for vulnerable children

The Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act 2004 gave state governments the mandate of providing children education at the basic level while stating that their parents would be prosecuted should they refuse to enrol their children in school.

Other laws such as the Child’s Right Act 2003, the Trafficking (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act 2015 and the Nigerian 1999 constitution equally protect the rights of vulnerable children.

A research at Brunel University showed that despite such laws, enforcement towards the eradication of child abuse had been a major challenge in the West African nation.

Child destitution bill continues to hang

Sponsor of the Child Destitution Bill, Senator Aliyyu Wamakko during the first reading of the bill in July 2017 co-sponsored by 28 other senators said that the proposed National Commission on Child Destitution should be empowered to formulate policy guidelines and strategies for the successful eradication of child destitution in Nigeria.

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Senator Aliyu Wamakko (Photo: Facebook)

The bill also proposed that the new government agency would sensitise the public of the dangers of child destitution while advising government on the funding and rehabilitation of victims of the menace.

It will also ensure that stakeholders are coordinated to provide plans towards its eradication while providing intervention possibly in early childhood care and development centres. It would also fund Destitute Children Education Centres and the integration of the destitute child in Compulsory Free Universal Basic Education, among other things.

The second reading was conducted in February 2018. Wamakko told parliamentarians then that the “malady of child destitution in Nigeria, has aggravated the menace of Boko Haram provided fodder for political violence and militancy, provided willing foot soldiers to ethno-religious crisis and acted as catalyst to a variety of other social problems.”

A public hearing was conducted later in July same year but since then, nothing new was done about the bill before the legislature.

Bill gives room for sustainable education funding

Speaking with on the subject, the Executive Director, Almajiri Child Rights Initiative, Muhammad Keana identified the lack of sustainability plan as a major reason behind the near failure of the Almajiri Education Programme (AEP) instituted by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration.

That was the most recent national government effort at addressing the almajiri phenomenon. It elaborated on integrating Qur’anic education with Western education in schools.

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The Jonathan government said it built or equipped 157 Almajiri Model Schools in various parts of Nigeria as part of efforts to reduce Nigeria’s out of school children under the AEP. Several media reports, including some from this medium showed that the facilities have been left to rot away by state governments.

Mohammed Keana, Executive Director of Almajiri Child Rights Initiative

Keana whose group facilitated the existence of the bill and partook its public hearing said it proposed that the bill provides for intervention funds to run such schools.

“We made a priority recommendation on financing these schools at the public hearing,” he said.

“Once that bill is passed and institutionalised, there would be enough funding that would be deducted from the existing structure – some sort of intervention funds that would be coming to support the project.”

“It is not going to be on the whims and caprices of governors. There would be federal allocations for it, just like the running of unity schools. That would be the way forward.”

For a bill to become law, it must have gone through both the Senate and House of Representatives followed by a presidential assent.

It is hoped that this bill would be given speedy consideration once that Nigerian legislature resumes in July.

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