The Plight Of Nigerian Children
A complex mixture of economic, religious and cultural practices has been identified by experts as responsible for the gloomy future of the Nigerian child. Factors as school dropout syndrome, the Almajiri system, indigenous apprenticeship as well as early marriage have helped in no small way to limit the chances of children to good living condition, while denying them the much needed good and qualitative education.
Zuwairah Ali, a 13-year old girl hawks groundnut at the popular Area 1 bridge bus stop in Abuja because her parents cannot afford to pay for her education. The teenager told this magazine she hawks to support her parents’ meagre income. Zuwairah said she is not in school because her parents cannot afford the cost.
Records have shown that the number of children of school age in the category of Miss Ali is steadily on the increase across the length and breadth of the country. According to a report released by the Global Campaign for Education, GCE, a non-governmental organisation in 2010, Nigeria has more children out of school than any country in the world. The northern part of Nigeria alone is responsible for more than half of that figure. Biting poverty and most recently, the spate of Boko Haram attacks is fuelling school drop out in the region. Since the beginning of this year, Human Right Watch, HRW, noted that no fewer than 12 schools have been destroyed in Maiduguri the stronghold of the sect. HRW recalled that in late February, at least four schools were burned, and on March 1, five schools were set ablaze by the sect.
This scenario, Human Right Watch highlighted, may also deprive children of the right to access to education. The group expresses the fear that schools may close, children drop out entirely even when classes resume after an attack and the quality of education may also suffer.
Besides, HRW noted that threats of Boko Haram attacks may also force schools to close or parents refuse sending their children to school. This fear is already manifesting in various states across the north, including: Kano, Kaduna, Bauchi, Gombe amongst others.
Some of the schools torched in Maiduguri are: Success Secondary School, Sunshine Private School, Gwange 1 Primary School and Gwange Junior Secondary School. Newsworld gathered that schools in the metropolis are recording low attendance as pupils avoid classes for fear of Boko Haram attack.
Before now, primary school enrolment in Nigeria, especially the northern part has been abysmal. A major challenge in the north is the almajiri system of education, which many believe is in dire need of comprehensive overhauling with a view to making it conform to the demands of contemporary times.
The almajiri system is traced back to the 11th century as a result of the involvement of Kanem Borno rulers in Qur’anic education. Observers and followers of the system say that the present day almajiri system is a total deviation from the original idea, which was mainly to breed Islamic scholars.
Unfortunately, it has become an avenue for mass production of vulnerable children. The National Council for the Welfare of Destitute, NCWD, once put the population of almajiri at nearly 7 million. Proponents of reforms in the system believe that the “system as it is presently being practiced has out lived its usefulness,” adding “the system lacks good teachers and healthy environment, the standards are very low because of the emergence of half-baked Qur’anic teachers. While most boys of school age in northern Nigeria are engaged in the almajiri system, their girl counterparts are widely involved in street hawking.”
The southeast also has its share of poor basic education enrolment, as most children of school age are made to engage in indigenous apprenticeship scheme which prepares young lads for business. The practice has been blamed for low male school enrolment and dropout witnessed in the region. The practice is often used as a means of exploiting children.
According to the 2012 State of the World’s Children report, released by UNICELF, almost half of the world’s children now live in urban areas. In Nigeria most children in urban areas are exploited through hawking and other forms of menial labour. The report noted, “In this increasing urban world, the absence of a sustained focus on child rights means that some children are being left behind.”
Children in the country as well as their counterparts in other parts of the world are also faced with the menace of child abuse. “Of all reported forms of abuses in Africa, a significant number have been sexual abuses cases,” says the African Network for the Prevention and Protection of Children Against Neglect, ANPPCAN.
Universal primary education is goal 2 of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs. However, many are worried that without taking determined steps to address the specific needs of children, there will be no chance of meeting the goals that are children related.