As the number of the highly infectious coronavirus disease cases rise to more than 400 across Nigeria, a forum of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) has called on the government to include Almajiri children in its response plan to prevent a possible outbreak among them.
In a position paper, the five NGOs under the auspices of Advocates for Dan Almajiri lauded the palliative measures rolled out by various levels of governments with support from the private sector, but decried the exclusion of Almajiri children who are already exposed to poor health conditions and the probability of contacting the virus, given their situation.
The NGOs include; Plan International Nigeria, Street Child, Riplington Education Initiative (REI), Almajiri Child Rights Initiatives and ActionAid Nigeria.
According to a 2014 report by UNICEF, the Almajiris constitute 9.5 million of the country’s children within the ages of 3-14.
The forum observed that “while it is laudable that government is investing resources to maintain law and order during the pandemic, there is no evidence of special attention to issues affecting children, especially the Almajiris and other street kids, who are more vulnerable in periods of emergency which offer a supportive environment for potential predators.”
Almajiris are itinerant kids sent by their parents from far and near to Quranic teachers to mentor them through their religious knowledge across the country. Most time, they are left to fend for themselves and they survive through street begging and scavenging.
“The Almajiri children are far removed from all major sources of information on COVID-19 and the opportunity of parental guidance on the messages and guidelines,” the NGOs forum of five said.
“Implication of this is that they are not able to protect themselves and will not be able to observe any social or physical distancing or access medical services should they contact the virus.”
They called for the expansion of the social register to include the Almajiri children to provide food, non-food items and cash palliatives for them at strategic locations close to them.
The other recommendations by the forum includes provision of temporary shelter and proper safety and protection of the children on transit in line with child protection and safeguarding principles as contained in the Convention on the Rights of Children, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and other conventions that the country has signed and ratified.