The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) condemns the thoughtless, uncaring, undignified and unceremonious manner in which the Almajiri children are being treated; ranging from bundling them into animal trucks and buses from one state to the other, to stigmatizing them as carriers of the dreaded Coronavirus. These are done in the guise of trying to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic community spread among states.
Let us state categorically that this unnecessary repatriation of Almajiris from one state to another is in total contravention of the Child Rights Act (2003), that states that “the best interest of a Child is to be of paramount consideration in all actions.” This ungodly act perpetrated by some state governors shows utter disregard for the welfare and rights of the children and discrimination on these already vulnerable group.
While we acknowledge the provision of palliatives, sensitization campaigns, border surveillance and lock down measures, enactment of the COVID-19 Regulation 2020 as well as provision of testing and isolation centres for quarantine and treatment within the limited capacity of the country’s Health Management System as part of the country’s effort to curb the challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic, it is worthy to note that a cluster among the most vulnerable Nigerians – the Almajiris who constitute 9.5 million (UNICEF 2014) of the country’s children within the ages of 3-14 – are at the risk of being left out and no considerable and deliberate effort aiming at inclusion with the palliative response framework and even implementation.
It is more worrisome that in a teleconference on the 21st of April, 2020, the Northern Governors’ Forum decided to throw caution to the wind and make a decision that is in stark violation of the provision of the Constitution which mandates them to protect the lives and properties of its citizens by deciding to repatriate these vulnerable group, whose only crime is that they were born into poverty of which most of the governors’ actions and inactions did contribute to that situation.
In Nigeria, we are already faced with some shameful statistics on the number of out of school children, number of children living with severe and acute malnutrition, increasing number of children that belong to poor homes, high infant mortality, high rate of children dying before their fifth birthday. One wonders if these are not demeaning enough to this helpless group for them to add unnecessary deportation and inhuman treatment and discrimination to their already sorry state.
We want to use this medium to bring the attention of our governors and any other connected entities everywhere in the world there are venerable people like homeless and poor people, who are usually the responsibility of the government in the area of provision of social security. All around the world the poor are usually provided with the means of livelihood and it is the responsibility of the state.
We therefore call on the government at all levels to desist from this dastardly act of irresponsible deportation of the Almajiris because it is a violation of their fundamental human right. The duty bearers should be hiding their faces in shame with the rising level of failure of the government to provide social safety-nets for the vulnerable instead they are the ones adding to their peril.
We call on the government to provide necessary infrastructure to cater for the needs of the Almajiris and other street kids who are already exposed to poor health conditions given their situation and some who have been infected by the virus. It is worthy of note that the Almajiri children are disadvantaged in their access to information on COVID-19 and the opportunity of having parental guidance on the messages and guidelines. By implication they lack the opportunity to protect themselves given their ignorance of social distancing regulations and lack of access to palliatives and medical services.
It is therefore imperative that the government at national and sub-national levels and institutions live up to their responsibilities to protect the legitimate rights of these children to social services and protection in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and other such rights-related legal instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory and the Child Rights Act which has been domesticated by 24 states and hosts rights that are convenient and conducive to the welfare of children.
CISLAC also wants to use this opportunity to call on the 12 northern states that are yet to pass the Child’s Rights Act into law to quickly do so before the expiration of the Ninth Assembly, in order to provide these children with a legal platform for protection. We also wish to emphasize the need for the government at all levels to pass into law the Social Protection Bill for Nigerian citizens with special attention to Nigerian women and children. We further want to encourage the 24 states that have passed the Child’s Right Act not to relent in proper implementation of the Act, as no Nigerian child should be left behind.
The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) thus advocates, in the meantime, that the following measures are taken to cater to the needs of these children at this time, pending when more robust plans can be undertaken by the Federal Government and their respective State Governments to provide them with health care, quality education, clean water and sanitation, reduced inequality, peace and social justice:
- In line with the President’s directive on expansion of social register beneficiaries’ list, the register should include Almajiri children, within strict accountability guidelines.
- Develop a pragmatic strategy to get Almajiris back to school and keep them in school to reduce their level of ignorance and not grow to become the real nuisance in the society in future.
- Mapping of Almajiri abodes and ensuring that their care givers are subjected to all stipulated health guidelines.
- Provision of temporary shelters that are gender responsive to the children’s gender, age and/or disabilities.
- Ensuring that before embarking on the exercise of transporting more children back to their places of origin where necessary, arrangements are put in place for: compliance with requisite safe-guarding principles; adequately trained escorts; and temporary shelters to accommodate them at their respective destinations.
The welfare of these children should be foremost and paramount in the minds of governments at all levels and not to be used as pawns in cheap and trivial political battles.
Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani)