A five-year-old Maiduguri child ran away and went missing for days after the excessive and repeated beatings he received from his teacher at a Sangaya school.
The child told RNI reporter Fatima Grema Modu that he did not know his teacher’s name or where he came from.
“The child was bruised and battered and I could see the scars on his back where it looked as if he had been beaten,” said Modu.
A traditional ruler, Bulama Laminu Abdullahi of Mashamari Tandari of Jere Local Government Area, said residents had found the child and had brought him to his house. It was during Eid, so the child was included in the festivities.
Officials conducted a house-to-house search in the area to try to find the child’s parents and his home and the boy’s plight was broadcast on Borno Radio Television (BRTV).
Abdullahi said the child had stayed with him for close to a week. Neither the teacher nor his parents had reported him missing or had told others that he was gone and they were looking for him.
Abdullahi told residents that they should either phone him or come to his residence if they found the teacher or the parents.
He said when children went missing they would normally be kept for a day before being taken to the police station and, following that, a media announcement would be made.
The child told Abdullahi that he was an Almajiri pupil who had been brought to Maiduguri to seek further Islamic knowledge.
He said his teacher had inflicted brutal corporal punishment on him.
“He beat me repeatedly with a cane,” the child said.
Abdullahi confirmed that the child was seriously hurt. He said his back was bruised and red with open wounds and many scars.
He said it was a weakness of the government that it did not pay traditional rulers and those in office a salary – or even offered allowances – so that they could look after and take care of missing Almajirai children once they had been found.
He reminded parents of their responsibility to educate, nurture and feed of their children.
He said children and wives were entrusted to men by the Almighty Allah. He reminded them that, on the Day of Judgement, they would have to account for their behaviour towards women and children.
Abatcha Umar Ngala, the Borno State commissioner of religious affairs and special education, told RNI that the government had embarked on restructuring the Sangaya system of schooling. The government wanted to reform and modernise it.
He said there had been many cases of ill-treatment at these schools.
“One pupil was so badly beaten that he went into a coma. Many have dropped out of these schools and beg for money and food on the street. We believe that if these schools are transformed, this violent and cruel treatment of children will come to an end,” Ngala said.
A teacher – who asked to remain anonymous – said: “There is a dogmatic belief in parts of the north that a child will not learn without the cane. This is one of the reasons Almajirai abandon their Sangaya, where excessive caning is a daily issue.”
Under the Almajiri system, parents send their children, mostly boys aged four to 12, to boarding schools in distant locations to acquire Qur’anic education. Many rural and poor families who can’t afford formal education send their children to these schools. These itinerant Qur’anic pupils are known as Almajirai.
The Hausa word Almajiri is derived from the Arabic word, “al-Muhajirun”, which refers to a person who migrates from his home in search of Islamic knowledge. Colloquially, the term has expanded to refer to any young person who begs on the streets and does not attend secular school.
The Almajiri crisis has led to growing concerns about the safety of the street children, as well as the threat they pose to others, according to Nextier SPD, an international development consulting firm that uses evidence-based research to develop and build knowledge and skills to enhance human security.
Since the Islamic teachers were not paid, they survived on Zakat (alms) and the Almajirai were forced to contribute to the welfare of the Malam by begging on the streets.
Nextier SPD said the vicissitudes of street life had predisposed the Almajirai to delinquency for self-survival. The lack of food had made many of them vulnerable to diseases, including COVID-19 infection. Some of them had resorted to theft and other crimes.
It said several Malams had been arrested for perpetrating crimes, such as homosexuality against their pupils.
The Almajirai were also a security threat. Because of their vulnerability, they were more open to be lured to join extremist groups. They also faced being displaced, abducted or killed.
- ReliefWeb, the information portal of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the vulnerable nature of the children had become a burden in the face of an ideological war, more so when they were poorly catered for and lacked access to essential services.
- The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) quoted an Almajiri child, who had been returned to his parents, as saying: “I don’t miss it at all. Life as an Almajiri was very tough. I had to fend for myself, watch over myself, be my own security and beg to support myself. I never enjoyed being an Almajiri because the system exposes one to so many dangers and it is very difficult.”
He said: “I want to read the Qur’an, go to formal school and become a businessman. I see myself owning big businesses and providing mentorship support to younger ones in my community.”