Fred Itua, Abuja
Following recent developments regarding the relocation of Almajirai children across the country necessitated by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has called for the development and implementation of a program of action by the governments of northern states to permanently address the challenges posed by the system to children and the larger society.
In an advisory opinion issued in Abuja and signed by the Executive Secretary of the Commission, Mr Tony Ojukwu, the Commission noted that the ‘Almajirai children are exposed to increased vulnerabilities and risks, including death, trafficking, kidnapping, drug use and addiction, recruitment into terrorism, violent crimes, sexual and other forms of assault and forced/child marriages.’
The Commission further noted that the children suffer multiple violations of human rights which go contrary to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, the Child Rights Act, the Child Rights Laws (applicable to some states), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and other international human rights instruments relating to the protection of the rights of the child.
The Commission called on the governments of northern states to develop a multi-sectoral ‘program of action for the transfer, return and rehabilitation of Almajiri children.’ A major step towards achieving this will be an obligation on the part of affected states to ‘put in place financial, institutional and programmatic frameworks to urgently address the needs of the Almajiri children,’ the Commission urged.
Further to this, the Commission also calls for ‘adequate protection programs, basic support services and empowerment programs to address poverty and other socio-economic vulnerabilities that made the parents send out the children in the first place.’
The three paged advisory enjoined States to “put in place adequate plans for the enrolment and retention of Almajiri children in schools, including access to existing programmes such as school feeding and free education aimed at addressing the educational needs of the children in line with their rights to basic and compulsory education as guaranteed under the CRA and the Universal Basic Education Act.”
The advisory opinion issued in line with the mandate of the Commission in section 5 (l)(m)(o) of its enabling Act contains obligations for the transferring and receiving States.
In issuing the advisory, the Commission enjoined State authorities to ensure that actions targeting the transfer, relocation and rehabilitation of the Almajiri Children are in the best interest of the children. This is in line with global best practices and principles enunciated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child which Nigeria is a signatory and has domesticated in the Child Rights Act and Laws as applicable in States.
The Commission went further to advise that “the best interest of the child” principles will be violated ‘in circumstances where the Almajiri children have been relocated to places outside their homes or states of origin, leading to the denial of access to their parents or guardians (necessary for children) or home governments for a structured development, and may defeat the benefits from this current initiative.’
It will also be a violation of the principles “where the process of return exposes the child to danger, vulnerabilities, rejection, inhuman and degrading treatments and further denial of access to education, healthcare, food, shelter and protection.”