Parents should be advised to have children they can take care of

At the inauguration of the office complex for the National Commission for Almajiri and Out-of-School Children Education (NCAOOSCE) in Abuja last week, Minister of Education Tahir Mamman, said this is the time to face squarely the Almajiri ‘monster’ that has become a security problem. Beyond adding another bureaucracy that could become a drainpipe, we don’t know what value the commission will add but we subscribe to ending the Almajiri phenomenon.

Originally, male pupils of school age who left home in search of Qur’anic education, they were placed in care of teachers who would prepare them for learning the basics of their religion. But the teachers, in most cases, were unable to meet all the needs of their pupils who were then obliged to beg in the neighbourhood. Over time, the practice broke down irretrievably, and the pupils were abandoned to their fate.

Without homes or any discernible means of survival except begging, these children are confined to the street which exposes them to all forms of abuse. They are easily lured into all manner of crimes and have indeed constituted themselves as breeding grounds for violent conflicts. Aged between four and 18, they constitute the largest number of the country’s out-of–school children. The immediate past Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje said that there were more than three million Almajiris roaming the state, without homes and no means of survival. Last week, Chairman House Committee on Alternative Education, Al Mustapha Aliyu Rabah, revealed that more than 40 million Almajiris were not captured in the government’s database and they constitute part of the neglected and forgotten children in the country. Many politicians and others use them as cannon fodder to advance their interests. Mamman noted last week that the often scruffy, ill-clad and deprived children were the largest group in the recent Minna, Niger State protest on the cost of living.

We endorse the idea that every child should be in school, and the need to reintegrate the out-of-school children into society. That is the surest way to end the exploitation of these vulnerable elements by some misguided leaders. However, in as much as we agree that very dire situations like the existence of the Almajiri system require public policy intervention, building special schools for them like the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration did at great cost to the nation is not the solution. In any case the schools were largely abandoned.

We think there should be intensive enlightenment campaigns to change the orientation of the parents and guardians who seem not to really appreciate what damage they are doing first to the future of their children and wards, but also to the larger society. Parents should be advised to bring forth children they can adequately cater for, and not those they will throw to the street. Fortunately, all the states have domesticated the Child Rights Act. It should be enforced. Besides, as we had suggested, and still reiterate, the affected states should tap into the Universal Basic Education Fund and make use of grants which many governors have failed to utilise for fear of accountability.

The Almajiri school system will not be the first time the federal government has intervened in curbing the menace of a large army of youths roaming the streets begging for alms instead of being in schools. In 1989, the government introduced a Nomadic Education Scheme to cater for itinerant Fulani herdsmen. Despite billions of naira expended, the nation is yet to see the full impact of the scheme on these nomads. For the present effort to be meaningful, the federal government must secure the buy-in of all critical stakeholders, including parents and traditional rulers.

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