Would it be right to assert that the issue of child labour and abuse is a source of concern to many? And more so, that the wrong effect of this has attracted both international and national concern?
It is however without any malicious intent to uphold the general view that the African continent has been long associated and ravaged by the stigmatization of poverty and incessant violence. Both of which are fundamental predications for child labour and abuse. Such (poverty and violence) is the view of an average Nigerian youth, even about the Northern region of the country.
Through this article, there is an attempt to create an evaluative analysis through various objective surveys, and more importantly, make recommendations with a perceived workable model in proffering solutions to the current challenge evolving around the Almajiri system in relation to our dysfunctional primary education system which is fast growing into a looming global danger if not properly curtailed.
It should not go without saying that the views expressed herein are not an acclaimed “silver-bullet” to the issue at hand. Thus, it is subject to other possible constructive criticisms and reactions especially from the corridors of legal luminaries, and political thinkers alike.
ALMAJIRI SYSTEM AND NIGERIA PRIMARY EDUCATION.
It had been estimated that child labour accounted for 32% of the workforce in Africa, 17% in Latin America, and 1% in the United States. In 2006, the number of child workers in Nigeria was estimated at about 15 million.
The US Department of Labor in its 2010 report claimed Nigeria is witnessing the worst forms of Child labour, particularly in agriculture and domestic service.
In 2003, Nigeria passed a Child’s Rights Law designed to incorporate the rights guaranteed in the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child which was adopted by the UN in 1959 stating among other provisions that: “The child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation…he shall in no case be caused or permitted to engage in any occupation or employment which would prejudice his health or education, or interfere with his physical, mental or moral development.”
Child labour is simply the employment of children under the age of 18 in a manner that restricts or prevents them from basic education and development.
Unfortunately, though the UN convention was signed by Nigeria as a nation and its provisions incorporated into her federal law, the first sight of defect is noticed in the fact that it has not been incorporated by all of the country’s 36 states. For that to happen, this would require that the Houses of Assembly in each state passes this into their local law. As at now, 24 of the 36 states have done so. And more, unfortunately, all but one of the states that have not incorporated the law locally are in northern Nigeria where child labour and abuse are pervasive in the cloak of Almajiri system and child marriage respectively.
The word “Almajiri” is a derivative of the Arabic “Al muhajirun”, “an immigrant.” This implies one who migrates from his home to another for the sole aim of Islamic knowledge. Interestingly, the system in ancient time produced the judges, clerks, and teachers who provided the colonial administration with the needed staff. The first set of colonial staff in Northern Nigeria was provided by the Almajiri schools.
Contrastingly, in recent times, there seems to be no end in the emerging increase in the number of children around northern Nigeria roaming the streets in a quest for survival. These kids traditionally called ‘Almajiri’ – are children from poor homes usually sent to Islamic boarding schools. Formal education remains a far cry for thousands of them.
Over the years, there seems to be an emerging effort to integrate basic education into the Almajiri system (Knowledge of Islamic study). As such, Nigeria’s former president, G.E Jonathan, reportedly spent about N15 billion in building Almajiri schools which obviously failed in achieving its aim due to the inability of the government to sustain the program so much so as to maintain the interest of the children in the school system.
Putting in perspective, Nigeria accounts for about 13.2 million out of school children. This simply means that in West Africa, Nigeria owns about 45 per cent of out-of-school children. 69 per cent of the out-of-school in Nigeria are from Northern Nigeria, with 60 per cent of them comprising of girls. The number of out-of-school children in Nigeria has increased from 10.5 million in 2010 to 13.2 million in 2015. Some of the contributing factors to this issue is the protracted violent conflict in Northeast Nigeria. The destruction of schools by insurgents, forced displacement, and the volatile nature of the region has also grossly impacted accessibility to primary education in the area.
With the UNICEF report in 2014, which puts the number of Almajiri in Nigeria at 9.5 million, or 72 per cent of the country’s 13.2 million out-of-school children, there seems to be a disaster unfolding before our eyes. Hence the heralding recommendation on the necessity to revive the Tsangaya system with more proper and enforceable structure.
Conflict experts hold that having vulnerable children in cities across a nation that is still fighting an ideological war is a terrible risk. For instance, it has been widely reiterated that the reason “Boko Haram” insurgents have continued to wage war against the Nigerian state is as a result of a robust recruitment source.
In a further recommendation to the art of combatting child labour in Nigeria, the tool of law must be clear and sharp without any iota of ambiguity. For instance, the child right Act (2003), which supersedes all legislation relating to children, should not leave any power concerning the protection of children to any other law, and where it does, the CRA should indeed prevail in relation to the child’s best interest. But rather, the Act states that the provisions relating to young people in the Labour Act still applies to children thereby leaving room for legal debates which could be against the best interest of the child. This would then include Section 59 (of the Labour Act), which sets the minimum employment age at 12, in contradiction to the CRA, which only permits children under age 18 to engage in light work for family members.
The Labour Act, section 45 & 46 also permits children of any age to do light work in agriculture and domestic work if they are working with a family member. Furthermore, as the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, children may be encouraged to leave school before the completion of compulsory primary education.
According to Nigerian law, child labour and abuse can be in any form or shade, but the fundamental effect is noticed where it impedes the mental or physical development of a child. As such, there is need for the nation to evaluate its affair through the lens of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
As earlier stated, poverty, environmental degradation, armed conflict and other various violence stands as the stumbling block of realizing peoples’ needs and rights of the goals. However, the effect of an untrained mind would always remain if not attended to.
The barbaric nature and consequence of illiteracy among any group are almost coming to stay if its bud is not properly nipped. This is more so expressed in the magnanimous act of the Gombe State first lady reported to have distributed bags of sachet water to supposed younglings as startups. So much so is the barbaric acts of child marriages and other sexual violence that denies the female child of her sexual rights, and consequently, distractions from primary education.
According to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in a paper presented at the then University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, upon his installation as the premier chancellor of the institution, he said: “it is only when the minds of men have been properly and rigorously cultivated and garnished, that they can be safely entrusted with public affairs with certainty and assuredness that they will make the best of their unique opportunity and assignment… it is from them — university teachers to the university students, and from the latter to all the lower institutions of learning that the eternal light of knowledge, and hence of intellectual and spiritual freedom will beam, with powerful and inextinguishable radiance, to the lowest place of learning — even the nursery school.”
The above statement of the learned silk reveals the trust and confidence placed on the power of education even at the nursery and primary level. It is therefore needed to state that primary education should be made guaranteed and enforceable under Chapter two (2) of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria. This can be a sail to the “Canaan” of quality basic education transmitting into the Nigeria of our dream.
ADEYANJU, O. OLALEKAN