An Advisory Opinion to Federal and State Governments issued pursuant to section 5(l)(m)(o) of the National Human Rights Commission (Amendment) Act
1. Addressing the social and economic challenges which have led to the growth of the Almajiri system in some parts of Nigeria, particularly the Northern region has occupied the minds of policy makers for some time.
2. Almajiri 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.
3. Notwithstanding the efforts of successive governments and stakeholders, Almajiri system still constitutes a major challenge to the development of children in parts of the country, denying them the enjoyment of their fundamental human rights.
2.0 Understanding the Human Rights Dimension of Almajiri
1. The National Human Rights Commission (hereinafter referred to as the Commission) notes that the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of its citizens in line with Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
2. Conscious of its mandate to monitor, promote, protect and enforce human rights of everyone in Nigeria in line with the national, regional and international human rights instruments to which Nigeria is a party, the National Human Rights Commission notes the following:
a. Nigeria has ratified and is therefore a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
b. Nigeria is also a party to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which has been domesticated.
c. Nigeria domesticated its obligations under the CRC and ACRWC into the Child's Rights Act, (CRA) 2003. The CRA is a comprehensive human rights instrument which seeks to protect the rights of children in Nigeria and to put in place policies and programmes for the development and survival of every child in Nigeria.
d. Some states of the federation have also enacted Child Rights Laws (CRL) in fulfilment of the obligations of Nigeria towards its children and generations unborn. For states that are yet to enact a Child Rights Law, these rights are of universal application and form part of the international obligations of the Nigerian state.
e. The cardinal objectives of the CRC, ACRWC, CRA, CRL and other child right related international, regional and national instruments to which Nigeria is a party, is that, in all actions concerning children, the best interest of the child shall be the utmost consideration by all particularly government (section 1 of the CRA).
f. The provisions of the CRA are crucial to securing the human rights of Almajiri children. Implementing these rights should be at the heart of any intervention targeting the social and economic welfare of the Almajiri children. Section 4 of CRA provides that every child shall have a right to survival, development and education. Section 9 provides for freedom of movement of the child subject to parental control not harmful to the child. Also, section 14 of the CRA provides that a child shall be entitled to parental care, protection and maintenance.
g. In addition to the foregoing subparagraph, the CRA further provides for the rights to: private and family life (section 8); freedom of movement (section 9); freedom from discrimination (section 10); dignity of the child (section 11); health and health services (section 13); free, compulsory and universal primary education, etc (section 15); and the right of a child in need of special protection measure (section 16) amongst others.
3.0 COVID-19 Regulations and the Best Interest of the Almajiri Child
1. The recent outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions have further exposed the inherent vulnerabilities of Almajiri children as possible victims of multiple human rights violations which have been enunciated in subparagraph 2.2(f)(g) above.
2. The Commission notes that in exercise of powers conferred on them by section 45 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended and the Quarantine Act (CAP Q2 LFN 2004), both Federal and State authorities have made COVID-19 Regulations derogating from the enjoyment of some fundamental rights in the interest of public health, safety and purpose of protecting the rights of others.
3. The Commission is mindful of the present circumstances under which the Regulations are being implemented, particularly the need to restrict movement and spread of the disease.
4. Some exceptions to restriction of movement in the implementation of COVID-19 Regulations have been provided for by both the Federal and state governments. These have included the return of Almajiri children to their states of origin. This process is being implemented by various Northern state governments.
5. In view of the foregoing, the Commission notes as follows:
a. The decision by the Governors of the Northern states to relocate Almajiri children must be viewed in the light of “the best interest of the child” principles.
b. Relocating Almajiri children to their states of origin and reuniting them with their respective families where they will receive “parental care, protection and maintenance” is for all intents and purposes, in the best interest of the child.
c. It shall be a violation of “the best interest of the child” principles 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.
d. It shall be a violation of “the best interest of the child” principles in circumstances 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.
4.0 Policy Recommendations
1. In view of the foregoing, the Commission in exercise of its mandate in section 5 (l)(m)(o) of it enabling Act makes the following recommendations.
2. Obligations of Transferring States
a. The implementation of the returns must be carried out in line with generally applicable minimum standards of dignity, safety, health and other basic human rights considerations by the transferring and receiving states so as not to leave the children dehumanized.
b. The transferring states shall ensure humane and dignified transfer arrangements to ensure that the children are transferred in dignity and respect.
c. The transferring states should put in place basic facilities such as decent transfer transportation, accommodation, health screening including test for COVID-19, feeding and security for the children. This will ensure that COVID-19 positive children will receive treatment and not infect others during transportation.
3. Obligations of Receiving States
a. State Governments should put in place financial, institutional and programmatic frameworks in place to urgently address the needs of the Almajiri children. States shall ensure adequate budgetary allocations and other funds for the rehabilitation, education, development and welfare of the Almajiri children within their states during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
b. There should be adequate plan for profiling, tracing and reunification with parents and guardians.
c. There should be in place adequate protection programs, basic support services and empowerment programs to address poverty and other socio-economic vulnerabilities that made the parents to send out the children in the first place.
d. Receiving governments should 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.
e. Children without traceable parents or guardians should be enrolled into social welfare programmes of states, including foster care where they will be accommodated and afforded structured life, training, education, security and empowerment.
f. Every child should be afforded right to survival, education, identity, security of person, freedom from cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment.
g. All receiving Northern State governments should work with relevant agencies including non-state actors to design a follow up “program of action for the transfer, return and rehabilitation of Almajiri children” in line with this Advisory and the Child Rights Act.
h. The Commission shall work with the various state governments and provide adequate technical and programmatic support to ensure that “the best interest” of the Almajiri children are mainstreamed into the “program of action” with a view to ensuring a right based dignified future for the children.
The COVID-19 pandemic has provided yet another opportunity to permanently address the challenge of Almajiri children. The Commission believes that a right based approach will make for a sustainable solution which will put in place an effective program for the permanent rehabilitation and gradual elimination of the underlying conditions that promotes Amajiri and other socio-cultural practices that affect the development of the child.
Issued in Abuja, this 27th Day of May, 2020
Tony Ojukwu, Esq.
National Human Rights Commission