Child Labour, Abuse and the Almajiri system :A current problem to the Nigerian Primary Education System.

The date: Friday, 3 May 2019. The statistics: International Labor Organization revealed that approximately 43% of  Nigerian children are engaged in child labor.

The date: Saturday, 20 June 2020. The statistics: UNICEF revealed that  Six out of every ten Nigerian children experience some form of violence or abuse.

The date: Sunday 29 December 2019. The statistics: 2014 UNICEF report estimated that there are 9.5 million Almajiri children in Nigeria, making up 72 per cent of the nation’s out-of-school children. Statistics further revealed that Nigeria has between 13.2 million and 15 million out-of-school children, most of them in northern Nigeria.

The truth: Nothing best describes the problems/degradation of primary education in Nigeria than the statistics above. This neglect of child welfare connotes futuristic dangers. F. Douglas wrote “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.” I wholeheartedly agree. 

In 2017, the minister of education, Mallam Adamu Adamu in commenting on the rate of illiteracy in Nigeria disclosed that about 30 percent of the Nigerian population- which was as of then, approximately 60 million Nigerians- are unable to read and write. 

The lack of primary education is a major stimulant to the high rate of illiteracy in Nigeria. Evidence abound in the facts raised by UNICEF: “In Nigeria, about 10.5 million children are not in school even though primary education is officially free and compulsory… In the north of the country, the picture is even bleaker, with a net attendance rate of 53 percent”.

It is therefore no wonder that the Amajiri system practiced in northern Nigeria remains a critical problem to the Nigerian primary education system. The Almajari system which originally focused on Qur’anic and Islamic education has taken a drastic turn in initiative and practice. 

The system now encourages child abuse, child labor, exploitation, stigmatization, nuisance etc. Besides, the almajirai(who are the children) do not receive secular education which in all deprives them of their rights to primary education as enshrined in section 15 of the Child’s Rights Act(2003) and Article 28 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

Furthermore, poverty- in no little way-encourages  child labor, child abuse, as well as the inappropriate practice of the Almajari system. These vices in turn becomes a clog in the wheels of the Nigerian primary educational process. Due to extreme poverty, children are forced out of school and saddle with the imposed responsibility of fending for their families as breadwinners. 

Indeed, Nigeria’s primary education system constantly diminishes because of the sexual, physical, emotional and psychological effects of child abuse and child labor. 

One then wonders what resolutions can be reached to curtail these problems. Why are these problems prevalent in Nigeria? What policies have the government initiated to mitigate them? Can we say basic education is indeed free as presumed to be? How effective are the law enforcement agencies in arresting perpetrators of child labor/abuse? What are our attitudes as a country towards these vices? Is education worth it after all? Theses are the billion dollar questions in need of answers. 

To flag it off, Nigeria’s Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and the various State Boards play a paramount role in curbing the problems of the primary education system. 

The commission must live up to its core objective, which is to ensure an uninterrupted access to 9-years formal education by providing FREE and COMPULSORY basic education for every child of school-going age under. This can be done through scholarships, programs and incentives.

One initiative that readily comes to mind is the Better Education Service Delivery for All(BESDA). A world Bank assisted programme that has rehabilitated over seventy thousand Almajiri in Niger State. 

Another beautiful improvement is the introduction of basic conventional skills in the curriculum of Almajiri system of education in Niger State, under the led-administration of Dr. Isah Adamu(Chairman Niger State Universal Basic Education Board). These programs and projects help curb the gruesome promlems in the Nigerian primary education system.

Also, it is one thing to pass a law and it is absolutely a different thing to implement it. The lack of implementation of government policies and legislation are by themselves facilitators of child abuse/labor. 

For instance, we have laws that prohibit child abuse (e.g. Section 28 of the Child Rights Act), however when we also have data that estimates 43% of children engaged in child labor in Nigeria, it only goes to prove lack of implementation of the law in curbing child labor.

Little wonder even within the educational system one can find child abusers and perpetrators of child labor. For years, we have seen, watched, told and heard of how children are sexually abused by teachers, forced to work on their principals farms, cajoled and maltreated, and the use of inappropriate correctional methods in reprimanding them. 

One begins to baffle; if the four walls of the educational system is in itself not safe for these children?, how, then, can these problems plaguing the Nigerian primary education system be resolved? 

First, rigorous screening process for staffs in this field must be upheld. And irrespective of this, a further observation and-if need be-investigation of these staffs in the course of their duties.

Also, an unforgivable implementation of the law in dealing with perpetrators of child labor and abuse. Law enforcement agencies must at all times be on their toes to arrest and prosecute these persons. 

Government agencies, parastatals, Non-governmental organizations etc must be at the forefront in rehabilitating, training and assisting children through schools, most especially the Almajaris who are exposed to a lot of vices. 

Above all, the essence of parental control can not be underrated. To sensitize parents on the importance of education may as well be our saving grace. Most guardians are completely misled by the logic of child labor over child education. Thus, the importance of child education must be excessively reiterated. In summation, John F. Kennedy puts it simply and well: a child miseducated is a child lost. 

Augustine Eneji Ushie is a final year law student in the University of Calabar, Nigeria. He is a young, space law enthusiast and an  International law columnist who’s works have been published on “The Economic Misfit” and Louis de Gouyon Matignon’s blog- “Space Legal Issues”, amongst others. Ushie can be reached via  [email protected]

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