Almajiri are a high risk community during this pandemic, how will we protect them?

Almajiri

Reports coming out of Kano over the last two weeks have been horrifying. An estimated 200 – 700 deaths have been recorded from the state in the last week, though many suspect the numbers are actually higher and have been under documented. The state’s testing labs were contaminated, reducing the efficiency of the state’s response to the pandemic and reducing trust in its leadership. This is a trend we are seeing reflecting across Northern Nigeria as more states record higher rates of infection. In light of this, it would irresponsible to not to ask how these states intend to reach and protect their Almajiri population.

The concept of Almajiri, is an interpretation of Islamic doctrine, that asks parents to commit the lives of their first born sons to the service of Allah. The preferred method of doing this is through an apprenticeship of sorts under a religious scholar, who is then responsible for the boy’s education and care while parents may or may not support financially. For children whose parents are financially stable, being sent to serve as an Almajiri can be an enlightening experience, but for the vast majority of Almajiri who come from poor homes (Northern Nigeria is estimated to account for 70% Nigeria’s total poverty index), becoming an Almajiri is a traumatic event, where religious scholars are overwhelmed financially and otherwise with the burden of caring for so many young boys. These boys are largely left to their devices without access to education, parental care or even food. It seems a recipe for disaster in traditional settings but even worse that we have a highly communicable viral disease and a large population of children and teenagers who have endured years of undernourishment and negligence.

The Northern Governor’s Forum decided as a response to the Coronavirus pandemic to round up Almajiris in each state and return them to their families in their home states. This is a poorly thought out idea because many of these young boys are expected to just reintegrate into their families when their return will be perceived as an extra burden on already burdened families. Also there is no indication that any of the boys who were relocated from Kano state as the first phase of this relocation were tested and cleared of the Coronavirus.

There needs to be a better way to ensure that Almajiri are given special consideration during the pandemic and the system is formalized to ensure that no one falls through the cracks, otherwise we will have concurrent pandemics on our hands.

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