Photo credit: TheCable
At 14, Abubakar Idris (not real name) would pass as a breadwinner for his family in Sabon Gari, Ungogo local government area of Kano state. He is always out in the streets, from morning to sometimes, night, hawking sachet water, just to keep his family going. Sometimes, he has to beg for alms.
On days when patronage is low, he switches to alamjiri (a term which is used to describe alms-seeking children). On lucky days, he gets N200 together with food and other edibles, but some days bring forth earnings as low as N20. He would take everything to the mother at home to return again the next day, a routine he has been on for almost a year.
“I sell mostly water together with other children in the market,” he told TheCable in Hausa during a recent visit. “My mother is doing business and my sister is in Gombe.”
Like Idris, Yusuf Mohammed (not real name) struggles to survive under the scorching sun of Kano, often finding his way into the suburbs where he spends a large chunk of his time as an almajiri. The 13-year-old told TheCable he was once within the four walls of the classroom but was withdrawn from school by his guardians to join other alamjiri.
“I used to be in the class with my friends but I later left in 2018,” he told the reporter as he clutched his bowl under one arm. “I will like to return to school,” he added before hurrying off to join the other children.
Idris and Mohammed are not alone; they are just a part of the estimated 10.5 million children who are out of school across Nigeria, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), or one of the three million children of primary school age in the state reportedly out of school.
Adopted by Nigeria in September 2003, the Child Rights Act is a legal document to domesticate the Convention on the Rights of the Child signed in 1989 by the United Nations General Assembly. The act seeks to ensure a safe and secure future for children through a number of provisions such as: free, compulsory and universal primary education; freedom from discrimination on any ground; every Nigerian child is entitled to rest and enjoyment of the best attainable state of their health; every government in Nigeria shall strive to reduce infant mortality rate, provide medical and ensure the development of primary health care for children; care of children in need of special protection measures; as well as proper care for expectant and nursing mothers.
It also prohibits betrothal or marriage of children; child abduction and forced exploitative hard labor involving children; dealing in children for purpose of begging, hawking, prostitution or for unlawful immoral purposes as well as any form of abuse and maltreatment against children.
Sadly, Kano is one of the 11 states yet to domesticate the act, according to a document from YouthHubAfrica. The state, with an estimated population of 13.5 million, according to the National Population Commission, now grapples with a lot of societal ills endangering children. Top on the list are child labour and low literacy rate.
EARLY MARRIAGE, CHILD LABOUR, INFANT MORTALITY REIGN IN KANO
Kano alone accounts for one million out-of-school children in Nigeria, according to the UNICEF representative in the state. Apart from low literacy level among children, the state is also known for high infant mortality rate, child marriages as well as inadequate healthcare for children.
A UNICEF multi-indicator cluster sampling, which covered 2016 and 2017 showed that the rate of infant mortality in Kano is as high as 112 percent while under-five mortality rate is 203 percent. The survey showed that while only 4.6 percent of the children in the state undergo full immunisation coverage, 54 percent of the children are involved in child labour. Also, access to early childhood education and early marriage stands at just 18 and 70 percent (for women) respectively.
Key highlights of the survey are shown in the table below:
KANO REFLECTS THE NIGERIAN SITUATION
UNICEF data shows that one in 10 live births do not survive before their fifth birthday. However, this does not capture the whole picture considering that only 30 percent of children under five have their birth registered. What’s more? While UNICEF estimates that 25 percent of children aged five to 17 years are engaged in child labour, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) says the rate is up to 43 percent for those aged five to 10 years, with the informal private sector — engaging 75 percent of such children.
Although the Universal Basic Education Act states that primary education should be free and compulsory in Nigeria, only 67 percent of eligible children attend primary school, with 50 percent of the pupils in the north dropping out of school for mostly marriage and child labour.
As the country with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world, according to the World Poverty Clock, the Nigerian child is mostly affected as well. With an estimated population of 201 million citizens, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA): 44 percent of Nigerians representing 88.4 million citizens are between the ages of 0 and 14, while 32 percent — or 64.3 million — are aged from 10 to 24.
‘WE CAN’T FORCE PARENTS TO ACCEPT FREE EDUCATION POLICY’
From the various interactions of stakeholders, including state government officials, experts and local journalists, one thing is clear: Kano is not all that excited about domesticating the child rights act to guarantee the protection of the likes of Idris and Mohammed.
Idris and Mohammed have one common dream: To be in the classroom like these children
While most persons argued that the state is already implementing a number of things the act provides for, others do not see the need for it and even claim it violates the rights of the children.
Amina Umar, director of Social Mobilisation at the Kano State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), told TheCable that the state operates a strict free and compulsory education policy in government schools. She said Kano has a law that outlaws street begging and even runs a committee on women and children, seeing to the welfare of the two groups.
She, however, expressed regrets over the difficulty in implementing such a policy, insisting that parents “cannot be forced” to abide by some of the policies of the state government as such is a gradual process.
Umar said: “Kano state has promulgated a law that there should not be street begging. But you will still see them, it is a gradual process. The governor had declared free and compulsory education, that every child must go to school. If you say you prefer Islamic education, go for Islamic education, but you must incorporate western education. That is the policy in Kano and no going back.
“(But) we have to first make parents understand that these children need education. You cannot just go and start forcing it on them. Things are done gradually, you cannot remove all these children in the streets in one year. We have our target for out-of-school children and we will do it gradually.
“When you go to communities and see their line of thinking, if they are resisting something, you don’t challenge them, you leave them. When they see the positive impacts of what you are seeing, they will accept it.”
A common sight in the streets of Kano
She added that the child rights act “does not guarantee that the child will go to school” and that among those in the committee on women and children are lawyers, a judge and academics all working to ensure the average child in Kano is well catered to.
Umar also said the state has its target and is reaching it gradually with or without the child rights act.
“When you have a quantum of things on the ground, you cannot do it within a short period, so you set your target on what you can do. Even though I am a stakeholder, I am not in a position to start telling you whether the state will domesticate the act, but indirectly, we are already implementing it,” she said.
She insisted that Kano is “on course” on the rights of the children even when confronted with the realities on the ground.
‘THE CHILD RIGHTS ACT VIOLATES CHILDREN’S RIGHTS’
At the state ministry of education, science and technology, most of the officials were reluctant to speak on the issue. The reporter, however, reached the education ministry’s director of planning who claimed the child rights act would violate the rights of the children in the state.
Girda Murtalla told TheCable that the 1999 constitutions which provides for fundamental human rights including freedom of movement is “the problem.”
Asked what the state is doing to ensure that there are no children involved in child labour, especially those in the streets, he said the constitution guarantees every Nigerian — including the children — the freedom to do a number of things including moving around.
“The government cannot enact or implement laws to prevent people from doing what they want including freedom of movement,” he told TheCable in a firm tone. “So, where your right stops is where the other person’s right starts. So the problem is also from the constitution…”
Asked if it meant that the state government has no plan to domesticate the child rights act? “That is a political issue,” Murtalla said in a tone that signalled no further comments.
EXPERTS WEIGH IN, SEEK MORE COMMITMENT FROM KANO
Emmanuel Gabari, YouthHubAfrica representative in Kano state, told TheCable that the state government’s claim that it implements a number of provisions of the child rights act, including free education, cannot hold water as the act is not just about free education.
He said the state government is not doing much aside the free education as “the child rights act goes beyond that.”
“The child rights act goes beyond giving the children free education, we are also looking at early marriage. You see a 70-year-old man getting married to little girls. Will they even let them go to school, at least let them get to secondary school level?” he Gabari asked.
He said even with the free education, most parents do not let their children, especially the girls, go to school as they feel it is a long wait before she finishes her basic education.
“Even for the girls, the parents feel education is a long term project. So how can they be waiting for years before she gets married when one alhaji has given them N10,000 to marry the girl?” he added.
A day in the life of Mohammed
He, however, expressed optimism that the child rights act first introduced in the state as the child protection bill, will be domesticated despite seeming reluctance considering that “there is pressure on the state government from all angles”
“The child rights protection bill was at the ministry of justice as at after election. There is pressure on the state government because they are also into a lot of maternal mortality issues and free education. The state has one of the highest populations in the country and so there is pressure from all angles,” he concluded.
Rabiu Musa, UNICEF media officer in Kano, told TheCable that the organisation has been working to ensure the state caters to the welfare of the children adequately.
“If we go by what is happening, the state flagged off the free and compulsory education which is a major component. There are issues on nutrition but we are discussing with the state to release funds for the food and introduce measures that will stop child malnutrition,” he said.
“We are engaging with the Kano state government on WASH and as we speak, we are walking with the state to declare a state of emergency on sanitation. They are addressing the components however the state is yet to implement the law.”
He, however, pointed out that the people’s attitude, culture and level of exposure are major contributors to the lack of adequate welfare for children in the state.
“It is for all of us and everyone to try to consistently engage with different groups. Behavioural change is not what you can achieve in a day, it takes a bit of time. It is what can be achieved but it may take a bit of time,” he said.