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More than 5 million Almajiris begging on the streets of Nigeria: Activists Seek End to Child Begging ‘Culture’ in the country

The widespread hunger epidemic induced by Boko Haram's seven years of violence in the region has increased the number of children begging on the streets

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Almajiri mendicants stretching hands to collect sweet as Sadaka. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

More than 100 boys are sitting in the dirt off a secluded street in Maiduguri. Rocking back and forth, they recite a mantra of verses from the Koran written on wooden slabs. They are Almajiri, students who attend a traditional Islamic school called a ‘Tsangaya’. They were sent to the Tsangaya by their parents who live far away. But when their lessons are over, these boys will begin walking the streets, pleading for food. Begging is part of the Almajiri tradition. “Begging is luck. Sometimes you get food immediately when you go out. Sometimes you don’t,” said Abdul Abbas. He is 16 years old and has been at the Tsangaya since he was a young boy.

Activists estimate there are more than 5 million Almajiris begging on the streets of Nigeria. The Almajiris flood the local markets at noontime, looking for rotten fruit and discarded leftovers. They carry their signature begging bowls, walking from house to house and pleading for handouts. Cultural historian Bulama Mali Gubio says the Almajiri system goes back centuries when every boy from the age of about five was expected to attend a Tsangaya. The community was expected to take care of the Almajiris, as part of what he describes as a “communal feeding system.”

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The Almajiris have long been a normal part of life here. But these days, people increasingly see them as the nuisance. Gubio admits the system has gotten out of hand. “Almost on a daily basis, young kids the age of five, six, seven have been dropped in Maiduguri here in the thousands,” Gubio said. “They have no parents, no teacher, no guardian, nobody to take care of them.”

More begging due to Boko Haram

The widespread hunger epidemic induced by Boko Haram’s seven years of violence in the region has increased the number of children begging on the streets. Children running away from their destroyed communities end up in Maiduguri, standing on the streets alongside the Almajiris, trying to look like them.

“Because they know if they look like an Almajiri, people will be more inclined to give them charity. People see it as a religious duty to help the Almajiris, and they believe Allah will bless them,” said Usman Mohammed, who was an Almajiri many years ago. Now he is an activist, trying to reform a system that he sees as degrading and abusive. “If they are begging, some people will beat them, harass them, all kinds of insults. They have been experiencing all kinds of humiliation,” Mohammed said. “I know the humiliation they are going through.” Mohammed goes around the city to find Almajiris and take their photograph. He talks to them, learns about their background, and finds out where their parents are. He began this personal campaign five years ago to advocate an end to the begging culture.

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Government officials have noted that in its early days, members of Boko Haram recruited many vulnerable Almajiris. “The street is their father. The street is their mother. The street is their culture. The street is their tradition,” Gubio said, commenting on how the group targeted Almajiris. “They will be stealing, grabbing, getting arms where possible. This is what brought up Boko Haram.” Mohammed agrees. He says Almajiris usually do not have stable childhoods. “How are they going to not turn into something evil?” he asked. “Because they did not know anything called love. Nobody ever loved them, nobody brought them out from the rain, nobody brought them out from the sun. They don’t know where to get medication if they get sick.”

Deeply entrenched ‘tradition’

But the tradition of begging goes back to the teachers, the mallams, who the Almajiris live with. Abbas’ mallam, Umar Mohammed, has more than 100 students under his care. He says that forcing children to beg is un-Islamic, but it is necessary. “I can’t take care of them,” Umar Mohammed said. “They should even be the one taking care of me because I am an elder man. There is no organization that is helping us, so we have to allow them to beg. It has been there since our grandparents, so you can’t just wake up and condemn it.”

But in fact, more are condemning it. Mohammed Sabo Keana is another activist in the Nigerian capital of Abuja. He started AlmajiriProject.com where he posts pictures of Almajiris.

“What I understand about the issue and the plight of Almajiri is that everybody is turning a blind eye to it,” Keana said. “And how I feel to get people to focus on it is to have some prominent people — religious political and traditional rulers — from the northern part of the country to speak on it. Let’s have their position on camera. Are you in support of this? Do you condemn it? Let him condemn it on camera. “And once we have that, we’ll use it to form the basis of our advocacy so that we can drive citizens to rally the government to have it take major policies that will bring an end to this system,” he added. But bringing an end to this system means challenging a deeply entrenched tradition.

Back in Maiduguri, evening is approaching and dozens of Almajiris run to a waterhole. After a long day in the streets, they put down their begging bowls and splash in the water — in the tradition of children everywhere. (VOA)

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  • Kabir Chaudhary

    The Nigerian Government should actively take part and support local organisations to end this culture of ‘child begging’.

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Author Maria Wirth Shares Her Opinions on The Idea of Hinduism

Author Maria Wirth speaks on Religion, Indian Culture, etc

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Maria Wirth
A picture of Author Maria Wirth. Facebook

By Muskan Bhantagar

Author Maria Wirth belongs to Germany and has been living in India from past 38 years.  She is the author of the book ‘Thank You India: A German Woman’s Journey to the Wisdom of Yoga’. Newsgram gets in a conversation with her over a telephonic interview. Here’s an excerpt:

Muskan Bhantagar: 38 years back when you came to visit india, what was the thing about indian culture or precisely hinduism that made you fall in love with it and stay back in India?

Maria Wirth: Actually, it was not too much India that attracted me. When I was in Germany still i had many questions like i was very much intrested in what is life and what is the meaning of life and I was reading on Buddhism at a time and I was not connecting Buddhism to India strangely, and i knew very little about India. So a friend convinced me to stop over in India and only when i bought a book by Swami Vivekananda, i discovered what great treasure is in India. I had no idea, anything about what Hinduism is about. it’s just what you hear usually in the west, is about caste systems,etc. So I didn’t associate India with anything positive actually and then by chance, I discovered there’s such a great treasure here and it is such a pity that we don’t know about it.

Maria
Maria recalls how initially she could not relate India with anything positive. Pixabay

Muskan Bhantagar: As we read in your articles that Islam and christianity have been promoting and propogating their religion for years now, but the hindus don’t do so. What do you think can be the reason behind this? 

Maria Wirth: Well I think, I was just writing an article I mean when you think how much Hindus have suffered over the last thousand years. So many were beheaded and tortured under the Muslims and then again under the British also. British were also very very brutual, especially after 1857 and etc. And hindus had no way to stand up for their religion. And I think this has gone very deep into the system of Hindus.

And then ofcourse after Independence, this secular education and even Hinduism is now put down even more than earlier. Earlier, education was not so under the Muslims, they had to lie low but they could still have gurukuls and their schools but not now.

So I think one reason is that you have been intimidated so much and also expect so much and like Arun Shourie, in his book he writes that 6th standard students learn in school, etc in Bengal that Islam and Christianity are the only religions which treat the human beings with dignity and equality. I mean such sentences. When you’re a child, it goes into you and then you just look down on it. And I think slowly slowly, even parents of these children say they have been brought up already like this.

Maria
Maria says that Hindus were previously tortured under the Islamic Community. Pixabay

Muskan Bhantagar: A large number of Indians are unaware about their own culture and heritage. What do you think can be a solution to this problem?

Maria Wirth: I mean it should get also in the schools. I was so shocked when I came to know that nothing is taught in Indian schools. Neither Mahabharata, Ramayana, Upanishad. Upanishad is philosophy, there is nothing to do with religion. It was very insidious that the British kind of bend or this stuff from being taught, because it doesn’t help them because it would make people strong. They wanted to destroy Indian sanskriti, Indian culture because it has lot of strength. Now like the young generation in India, they were brain-washed into believing that Hinduism is not worth anything. It’s so wrong, so wrong.

Author Maria Wirth spoke to us over various topics. We’re thankful to her for taking out time to talk to us and share her wise opinions. We hope to get more of her soon and help viewers know her better.

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Understand Your Kids’ Perspective to Make Them Exercise

Parents need to put themselves in children's shoes to make their kids take time off the screen and exercise

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little kid
Being strict parents will not help, you need to understand your kid's perspective. Pixabay

Strict parenting may not always yield the best results, especially when it comes to making your kids take time off the screen and do some exercise, suggests new research Lifestyle news.

Rather, parents who know a child’s preferences and participate in the activities become more successful in keeping him/her motivated to do exercise, showed the findings published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Parental control, meaning varying degrees of coercion and disregarding the child’s role in exercise-related decision-making, was perceived as undesirable and reduced enthusiasm for exercise.

“For example, strong, public and overt encouragement in tournaments and games was perceived in some cases as embarrassing and even shameful,” explained postdoctoral researcher Arto Laukkanen from University of Jyvaskyla in Finland.

kids team
“For example, strong, public and overt encouragement in tournaments and games was perceived in some cases as embarrassing and even shameful,” explained postdoctoral researcher Arto Laukkanen. Pixabay

“In addition, underestimating and ignoring the temporary cessation of exercise motivation, for example, was perceived as controlling and reducing enthusiasm for exercise.”

The study involved interviews with 79 first-, second-, and third-grade students.

The researchers found that children aged 7 to 10 years had a clear distinction between parenting that increases and reduces exercise motivation.

A very typical unpleasant exercise experience for children was related to limiting screen time and the associated command that the child should go out to exercise.

baby-girl-kid
Parents want to limit the screen time of their kids and want them to exercise. Pixabay

Read More: India Extends Lockdown Till May End

“This is very contradictory, as parents try to take care of the children’s screen time and adequate level of exercise, but at the same time they may be contributing to alienation from exercise,” Laukkanen said.

“Perhaps exercise should not be set in opposition to screen time, but one should strive to organize independent space for both of them in everyday life.”

However, the researchers said that further research on this topic was urgently needed from the perspectives of both children and parents. (IANS)

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Children Need Extra Help To Build Psychological Resilience In Pandemic

Parents and caregivers need to understand children in these difficult times of Pandemic and extend support

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Children
Understanding child psychology and supporting children in these tough times is very critical. Pixabay

BY N. LOTHUNGBENI HUMTSOE

We are certainly aware of the medical and economic consequences of COVID 19; but what is also critical is the psychological aspect of this fight, especially for children — in their families, isolation facilities, child care institutions as well as NGO run shelter facilities. There is a need to educate parents and caregivers to support children in these difficult times and build their social and psychological resilience. It is an essential lifestyle news that children need support from parents and caregivers in the pandemic.

It is natural for the children to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during an ongoing pandemic like COVID-19. Fear and anxiety about their own health and the health of loved ones can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions. In today’s digital world, children also access different kinds of information and news through social media and digital platforms, some of them may not be factually true, causing further stress and anxiety. It is enhanced when children are not able to go out, play, attend school or interact freely. Here are some tips by by Deepika Gandhi, Coordinator-Mental Health Initiatives, Miracle Foundation India to protect your child mentally and emotionally in isolation:

Understand that reactions to the pandemic may vary

Children’s responses to stressful events are unique and varied. Some children may be irritable or clingy, and some may regress, demand extra attention, or have difficulty with self-care, sleeping, and eating. New and challenging behaviors are natural responses, and adults can help by showing empathy and patience and by calmly setting limits when needed.

children
There is a need to educate parents and caregivers to support children in these difficult times. Pixabay

Ensure the presence of a responsive and sensitive caregiver

The primary factor in recovery from a traumatic event is the presence of a supportive, caring adult in a child’s life. Even when a parent is not available, children can benefit greatly from care provided by other adults (e.g., caretaker, relatives, friends) who can offer them consistent, sensitive care that helps protect them from a pandemic’s harmful effects.

Social distancing should not mean social isolation

Children, especially young children — need quality time with their caregivers and other important people in their lives. Social connectedness improves children’s chances of showing resilience to adversity. Creative approaches to staying connected are important (e.g., writing letters, online video chats).

Provide age-appropriate information

Children tend to rely on their imaginations when they lack adequate information.. Adults’ decisions to withhold information are usually more stressful for children than telling the truth in age-appropriate ways. Adults should instead make themselves available for children to ask questions and talk about their concerns. In addition, adults’ should limit children’s exposure to media coverage, social media and adult conversations about the pandemic, as these channels may be less age-appropriate.

Create a safe physical and emotional environment

Reassurance, routines and regulation- first, adults should reassure children about their safety and the safety of loved ones, and tell them that it is adults’ job to ensure their safety. Second, adults should maintain routines to provide children with a sense of safety and predictability (e.g., regular bedtimes and meals, daily schedules for learning and play). And third, adults should support children’s development of regulation. To help them manage these reactions, it is important to both validate their feelings (e.g., “I know that this might feel scary or overwhelming”) and encourage them to engage in activities that help them self-regulate (e.g., exercise, deep breathing, mindfulness or meditation activities, regular routines for sleeping and eating).

Emphasise strengths, hope and positivity

Also Read: https://www.newsgram.com/busting-myths-around-frozen-food/

Children need to feel safe, secure, and positive about their present and future. Adults can help by focusing children’s attention on stories about how people come together, find creative solutions to difficult problems, and overcome adversity during the epidemic. Talking about these stories can be healing and reassuring to children and adults alike. (IANS)