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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
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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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Facebook Accused of Protecting Far-Right Activists Who Broke the Sites Rules

Moderators at Facebook are protecting far-right activists, preventing their Pages from being deleted even after they violate the rules set up by the social media giant, the media reported.

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Moderators at Facebook are protecting far-right activists, preventing their Pages from being deleted even after they violate the community rules. Pixabay

Moderators at Facebook are protecting far-right activists, preventing their Pages from being deleted even after they violate the rules set up by the social media giant, the media reported.

The process called “shielded review” was uncovered by Channel 4 Dispatches – a documentary series that sent an undercover reporter to work as a content moderator in a Dublin-based Facebook contractor.

“In the documentary, a moderator tells the ‘Dispatches’ reporter that Britain First’s pages were left up, even though they repeatedly broke Facebook’s rules, because ‘they have a lot of followers so they’re generating a lot of revenue for Facebook’,” the Guardian reported on Tuesday.

Similarly, popular pages, including those of activists like Tommy Robinson, are protected from Facebook rules.

Robinson is currently in jail, serving a 13-month sentence for contempt of court.

Richard Allan, Facebook’s Head of Public Policy, was quoted as saying in the documentary that the company’s rules are based on revenue.

“If the content is indeed violating it will go,” Allan said.

Facebook, however, said it will remove Robinson’s page if he repeatedly violated the site’s community standards.ABritain First’s Facebook page was eventually banned in March 2018.

“It’s clear that some of what is shown in the programme does not reflect Facebook’s policies or values, and falls short of the high standards we expect.

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Facebook, social media.Pixabay

“We take these mistakes in some of our training processes and enforcement incredibly seriously and are grateful to the journalists who brought them to our attention,” Allan said.

The documentary also showed that Facebook moderators have turned blind eye to under-age accounts.

“Moderators are told they can only take action to close down the account of a child who clearly looks 10-years-old if the child actually admits in posts they are under-aged,” The Telegraph reported, citing the documentary.

“We have to have an admission that the person is under-age. If not, we just pretend that we are blind and we don’t know what underage looks like,” a trainer told the undercover reporter.

Facebook is also facing the flak for launching Messenger Kids that encourages children under age 13 to join social media.

British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in December warned the social media giant to stay away from his children.

Also read-Facebook Joins Skill India Mission to Train Empower Youth

Early this year, more than 100 child health experts have urged Facebook to withdraw the app.

Despite call for withdrawal by experts, Facebook has decided to expand the reach of Messenger Kids by introducing the video calling and messaging app designed for children under 13 to families in Canada and Peru.

Facebook said it will also introduce Spanish and French versions of the app. (IANS)