- Displaced by insurgency and abandoned by parents, many almajiris and other street kids narrate their stories of sexual abuse. YAKUBU SALISU reports
Abubakar Saminu (not real name), 11-year-old Almajiri boy, is the fifth child of his parents. He hails from Funtua, Katsina State, but he was brought to Kano to learn and memorize the holy Qur’an. He later absconded and became a street child.
The Hausa word, ‘Almajiri’, is derived from the Arabic word, ‘al-Muhajirun,’ which refers to a person who migrated his home in search of Islamic knowledge. According to Wikipedia, “Colloquially, the term has expanded to refer to any young person who begs on the streets and does not attend secular school.”
Speaking with our correspondent, Saminu said, “I have been sleeping around motor parks, market places and any available place.
“I don’t want to be an Almajiri, I want to go to school like my mates so that I can become a soldier.
“Sometimes, we go back to our various schools, which are mostly uncompleted buildings; but our mallams will have us punished for leaving the school.”
Detailing his experience with sex-for-food or money, the youngster said, “Sometimes, some area boys and Keke NAPEP [tricycle] operators will give me and some of my friends money, and sodomize us.
“We don’t know them; they come and go. They give us money and warn us not to tell anyone. That is how we get money sometimes to feed ourselves, apart from the street begging.”
A medical Practitioner, Dr. Usman Ali, Chairman, Nigeria Medical Doctors Association, Kano Branch, when contacted on the implications of anal sex for the street children said the children who are already faced with unhygienic lifestyle would be exposed to further health challenges through such acts.
According to him, the transmission of Sexually Transmitted Diseases such as HIV, AIDS; and bacteria infections, as well as hemorrhoids, are some of the dangers these children end up with.
“They may end up with trauma, which may last throughout their lifetime,” the physician warned.
He added, “It is unhygienic and not encouraged, even among adults, not to talk of children who are struggling to survive.
“It (anal sex) is associated with a whole lot of risks and dangers that could destroy the lives of these children, knowing fully well that they don’t have access to medical care,” Dr. Ali added.
Another street kid, Abubakar Sani, from Katsina, is nine years old. He said that he and his younger brother, who is seven, became Almajiri after they were enrolled into a Qur’anic School in Kano.
“I started begging after my brother and I were brought to Kano to learn the Qur’an.
“Our teacher cannot provide food for us; so, after our learning sessions, we go out to beg for food, money and other items.”
From the testimonies of the street children who spoke with our correspondent, sexual abuse is almost an inseparable experience of living on the streets.
“I had my first sexual abuse experience when I started going to a popular motor park on Gwarzo Road. Some group of persons lured me into a room at the back and I was left with one person who made me to do all sort of things I never knew,” nine-year-old Sani stated, shying away from the sordid details of the encounter.
Continuing, he said, “I reported the matter to my seniors and was warned never to mention it to anyone, that it is a horrible act, and that the society will reject me.” In effect, he quickly imbibed the culture of silence, which experts say has enabled the abuse to thrive.
The experience has left an indelible dent on Sani’s young mind. “My brother and I are finding life difficult; and, ever since that time, I’ve not been going to that place again and I also told my brother not to go to that side.
“Since then, I don’t go into people’s rooms when they send me on any errand,” he informed.
‘Sexual abuse increasing among male children’
Speaking on the issue, Shehu Abdullahi, the State Coordinator, National Human Rights Commission, stated that the commission receives complaints pertaining to sexual and gender-based violence on a daily basis.
“It is important to state that the rate of sexual abuses perpetrated against the male child is on the increase and really alarming and a thing of concern.
“This year alone, we have received 835 complaints about sexual violence, with 220 male victims and 615 females,” Abdullahi said.
Tale of abject poverty
Providing insight into his family background, nine-year-old Sani said, “My father has many children; I’m the third. I have two senior sisters. Our father is a labourer, and he said that he can’t train all of us; so, he brought us here (qur’anic school in Kano).
“Even back at home, we were not going to school; but I like it when I see school children dressed up neat in the morning going to school.”
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria.
The United Nations agency stated that, “Even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million of Nigerian children aged five to 14 years are not in school. Only 61 percent of six to 11-year-olds regularly attend primary school; and only 35.6 percent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education.”
UNICEF added, “In the north of the country, the picture is even bleaker, with a net attendance rate of 53 percent;” lamenting that “Getting out-of-school children back into education poses a massive challenge.”
The UN agency noted that education deprivation in northern Nigeria is driven by various factors, including economic barriers and socio-cultural norms and practices such as the Almajiri system, that discourage attendance in formal education.
Boko Haram in the picture
While poverty may be responsible for the unceremonious relocation of Sani, his brother and Saminu, the story is different for a young female Almajiri, who gave her name as Asabe Muhammed.
During an encounter with our correspondent, Asabe explained that since the death of her father in the hands of Boko Haram insurgents, life had been difficult for her family and they relocated to Kano to start a new life.
Since touching down in Kano, Asabe said, alongside with her mother and siblings, they all go out to beg on the streets.
Asabe, who said she’s 13 years old, disclosed that she has been getting all sorts of sexual harassments from men, especially those who hawk in traffic, as well as shop owners who always try to lure with the promise to give her money.
“Those boys selling in the traffic often touch us inappropriately because we play with them all the time and sometimes ask them for money.
“Shop owners in the markets and the neighborhood where we stay do same to us. They invite us into their shops and molest us. Sometimes, they rape some of us. It’s not only me; there are other girls, too,” the teenager narrated.
According to her, one of the men was arrested in October by the police after he raped a girl who raised the alarm.
“Thank God people came to her help and handed him to the police. He is still there, we heard,” Asabe explained, uncertain of the fact.
Unlike her male counterparts who expressed the desire to go to school, however, Asabe said that, for her, the priority for now is survival.
Asabe’s resolution confirms the UNICEF findings, which stated that gender, like geography and poverty, is an important factor in the pattern of educational marginalization.
“States in the north-east and north-west have female primary net attendance rates of 47.7 percent and 47.3 percent, respectively, meaning that more than half of the girls are not in school,” said UNICEF.
Molestation in qur’anic schools
And, just when it appeared that only the street was dangerous for the Almajiri, another street kid, Abdullahi Adamu, alleged that some group of boys older than him were involved in the act of sexually molesting younger boys at their qur’anic schools. But they were too timid to disclose their hurtful experience.
According to Adamu, the ugly truth was blown open when a new Almajiri boy reported to their qur’anic teacher after sustaining injuries when one of the older almajiris sexually forced himself on him.
“The mallam identified the group, severely dealt with them and expelled them from his school by handing them over to their parents,” Adamu said, adding that, ever since, no such case was reported again.
He expressed the desire to acquire both the Islamic and western education.
Rape cases disturbing —Kano Police
The Police Public Relations Officer in Kano, DSP Abdullahi Haruna Kiyawa, said that cases of rape are disturbing, as they have been recording them on a weekly basis.
“We record at least seven confirmed rape cases every month and majority of the victims fall between the ages of six and 12. The age group constitutes 55.2% of rape victims from January to date.
“Those who fall under this category are mostly street beggars and hawkers,” Koyawa told our correspondent.
Continuing, the DSP said, “What we have discovered is that 29.9% of these attacks mostly happen in uncompleted buildings, while others are raped in farmlands, shops, suspects’ homes, markets and other places.”
Demographics of child rapists
Disclosing the demographics of men arrested for alleged rape of street children in Kano, DSP Koyawa noted that 71.9% of suspects arrested were singles, while married males also constitute another group of men involved in the crime.
“We have also discovered that most of these rapes occur between the hours of 6am to11am; then from 12noon-5PM.
“Also, from our findings, the majority of the suspects commit the crime while under the influence of hard drugs,” Koyawa said.
Describing how rapists get their victims, the DSP said, “It is alarming to note that of these victims, 44.8% were lured with money and food. So, you can see that poverty is the main factor that exposes these children to such danger because their parents fail to provide for them the basic necessities of life, forcing them to beg or hawk, and some are homeless.”
He also stated that 38.2% of these children do not go to school. He did not disclose the source of his data, however.
Describing the efforts being made by police in Kano towards curbing rape of street children, DSP Koyawa said, “Knowing fully well that the fight against rape is a general one, we engage the public and other relevant stakeholders through public sensitization, using the media and other mediums of communication to discuss the ills of rape and how the law will punish anyone convicted of the crime.”
He stated that the Kano State Police Command also engages with relevant nongovernmental organizations to hold town hall meetings, as well as lectures in churches, mosques and other places of worship.
The Kano State Commissioner of Police, Sama’ila Shu’aibu Diko, had also directed and charged his Divisional Police Officers who are his field commanders to continuously patrol areas where rape cases had been recorded in the past; as well communities where there are uncompleted buildings.
He urged them not to relent in enforcing the law whenever they see any suspicious person or movement.
Diko disclosed that more than 82 cases of rape had been registered at the Police Sexual and Other Related Offences Section (SOR) so far this year, and that more than 70 persons are currently in court for prosecution after the police had completed their investigations.
National Human Rights Commission speaks
Abdullahi of the National Human Rights Commission stated that the commission receives complaints pertaining to sexual and gender-based violence on a daily basis.
“Most of the cases we receive involve children between the ages of zero to nine years, which is where the majority of the vulnerable street children and the almajiris fall,” Abdullahi said.
He noted that, as part of the NHRC’s mandate, the agency is advocating the enactment of the Islamic Family Law in Kano State.
“This is because most of the cases the Commission receives were results of the neglect of parental responsibilities.
“It is observed that most people are ignorant of the provision of parental responsibilities as dictated by Islamic teachings; and parents who abandon their responsibilities towards their children are best handled under such law,” Abdullahi said.
He discolsed that the Commission was also making efforts to prevail on the Kano State House of Assembly to pass into law bills for the protection of child rights before it. Such bills include the Kano State Child Protection Act; while the State Attorney General should also be encouraged to inaugurate the mechanism that would hasten justice delivery in sex abuse cases.
50 cases of sexual violence against street kids recorded monthly —Women Affairs Ministry
Hajia Hauwa Musa Suleman, Deputy Director Department of Child Development at the Kano State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, who spoke on behalf of her Commissioner, Dr. Zaharau Mohd Umar, said that the state was dealing with large numbers of street children of different categories.
According to her, while many are almajiris, a large number of street kids are not almajiris but live and associate with them either because they have been abandoned by their parents, or because they were orphaned, homeless or have been left to fend for themselves.
Hajia Suleman revealed that no fewer than 50 cases of sexual violence against street children are recorded every month, and that cases had been on the increase since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.
“The details of the cases are shared between the women affairs ministry and its partner, WARAKA Centre, which handles cases of sexual violence in Kano State.
She also added that Kano State, through the women affairs ministry, had introduced a programme of support for the needy, whereby parents of street children are identified and empowered financially to help reduce the number of street children, while those from other states are repatriated to their states of origin
“Support for this story was provided by the Media and Gender Project of Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism