“Almajiri system of education faulty, un-Islamic”

Mashi - Almajiri system of education is faulty

Muhammad Ali Mashi is the chair of the Global Improvement of Less Privileged Persons Initiative, GIOPINI, a Kano, Nigeria-based NGO working in the area of human and child trafficking.

In an interview with African Newspage, he speaks on child trafficking and labour issues, the Almajiri phenomenon, among others

How has the journey been working with orphans and vulnerable children, OVCs, trying to prevent them from being trafficked as well as educating and
empowering them?

Well, the journey has been so difficult, so rough, very challenging but interestingly since it is a humanitarian and sacrificial work; I took it upon myself from the year 2003, when the organization was registered, to ensure we succeed.  We have done very much to enlighten the general public on the dangers and repercussions of allowing our children to be trafficked, for whatever reasons.

The traffickers always come up with a strategy of deception and you find out that the victim’s closest persons are the culprits; they deceive relatives with the promise of search for greener pastures. So, we have been doing a lot in collaboration with the state governments, federal ministries, UN agencies like UNICEF, UNODC, UNDP, IOM as well as other civil society organizations.

We are now partnering with Save the Children and working with OVCs and I think the whole issue is about collective responsibility and about how we can contribute our own quota to the development of our noble country, about how we can change our negative attitudes. We are therefore trying to ensure collaboration between all stakeholders in the government and private sector as well as NGOs.

As an experienced anti-human and child trafficking expert, how grievous can you say the challenge is in Nigeria?

The whole issue centers on migration, either urban-rural or rural-urban and the trans-Saharan trade and the Nigerian civil war was what opened the eyes of Nigerians to international migration and they began to exploit it to engage in women and children trafficking. Trafficking can be inter, intra or international, and these agents use so many tactics to coerce parents and caregivers to lease their children to them including  the promise of securing better education for them or lucrative job opportunities.

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At the end, the children end up being exploited, some end up being engaged in menial jobs, some prostitution and are even engaged in criminal activities. The government should realize that in as much as a conducive atmosphere will be created in all communities it will definitely assist in minimizing our migration and trafficking challenges. I mean social amenities like schools, hospitals, recreational facilities and
opportunities of economic development so that our children can acquire skills that will earn them livelihood.

So, I see no reason why that cannot be done in the case of Quranic schools.  Allah SWT gives us children to protect, take care, educate and guide them; I can’t see why a child of 4 years will be taken far away from his parents. Whoever says that is Islamic is wrong; it is not fair it is not right, it is compulsory for parents to cater for their children.

For example, here in northern Nigeria, in the past parents encouraged their children to learn their skills and trades but that is not done any more for which reason some of those local skills have gone extinct, which if had been modernized would have created job opportunities at the grassroots. We are now trying to sell the idea of creating job opportunities at the grassroots which will keep our children who are now begging and scavenging, out of the street.

We are also campaigning for the sanitization of our Quranic system of education to reflect what happens in Western system of education, whereby parents take their children to Western schools with a box containing their dresses and some food items and also pay visit to the child from time to time.

So, I see no reason why that cannot be done in the case of Quranic schools.  Allah SWT gives us children to protect, take care, educate and guide them; I can’t see why a child of 4 years will be taken far away from his parents. Whoever says that is Islamic is wrong; it is not fair it is not right, it is compulsory for parents to cater for their children.

Regarding women, we have realized that many of them and their children become vulnerable when they lose their husbands to death or there is a family breakdown or even when the husbands do no longer have the capacity to cater for the needs of the women and their children.

We are therefore now implementing a project in 2 metropolitan LGAs of Kano State including Dala and Kano Municipal and although the project is meant to support less privileged women and their children, however, we designed it in such a way that it will benefit all the members of the communities.

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We were able to identify the purely less privileged women and their children as well as determined their health status by giving them befitting medical checkup including that of HIV/AIDS.

We found out children that were of school age but were not going to school, found out why they were not going to school and if it was because there was no one to take care of their educational responsibilities we take care of that. We don’t pay their fees but we make a case at the local authority as well as with the well-to-do individuals to take care of their responsibilities.

And for those who have failed SSCE, we asked them to organize themselves into groups and solicit the support of the learned persons in their community to offer them teaching support so they can pass their exams as well as link them up with tertiary education opportunities.

We also established community child protection committees which comprises of the ward head as chairman, the chief Imam, as his deputy, a businessman from the community, a women’s representative, a children’s representative, as well as teachers, hospital and social welfare workers. Others are security workers, civil society representative, as well as members of vigilantes.

Their responsibility is to look for how many children are of school age but are not going to school and take a census, how many youth are engaged in drug abuse and taking of other intoxicating substances and how are they getting the substances. As a result of these committees many of the spots where these guys meet to engage in such activities were discovered and busted, which helps a lot in sanitizing the communities.

There are also quality control committees which look for people who have retired and come back to the community whether security personnel, or a teacher and they engage them in the area of their expertise so they don’t become a nuisance to the community and the community is able to tap from their knowledge and experience.

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To what extent can you blame poverty on the high cases of human and child trafficking in Nigeria?

Poverty is a strong factor but it is not the only influencing factor, there are also social vices like deceptions, and coercions. All these factors contribute to human trafficking. Why poverty is contributing immensely is, for example, if a father dies and left a mother with 6 or 7 children and she cannot afford their 3 square meals. Then someone come to her to ask for 2 of those children to work for him and he will be paying her N1,000
monthly, for each child. She will see it as a source of income to her not knowing that the problem that N2, 000 will cause her will not be solved by N1 million.

Of course, she will feel she has gotten relief economically and will not care about what and what those children will be asked to do for that amount of money. She doesn’t know that her child, if a girl, will be segregated as the she will be made to sleep in a place the children of the house she is working will not sleep; she will not eat the same food as the children of the house and will be the first to wake up early in the morning.

She will prepare water for the children of the house to take their bath, prepare their food, bath the children, dress them up, and escort them to school. The girl will later come back home, clean and sweep the house, wash dishes, and begin to prepare the breakfast of other members of the family. All these amount to hard labour, why should we expose our children to all these?

If you will accept her wholeheartedly, let her enjoy all the privileges your daughter enjoys including education and social welfare. I am sure very few people can do that. You can see that the level of exploitation is so high, denying her education, healthcare and leisure. So, there is need for continued enlightenment by the government, traditional as well as religious institutions and by all and sundry.

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