Former Almajiri children empowered for a new future

GenU explores how Almajiri children who have left the system can be reached with skills and learning opportunities to empower them for a better future

Caroline Muhwezi, Generation Unlimited Programme Specialist
A boy learning a skill
UNICEF Nigeria
14 July 2020

“I want to be responsible when I grow up. My aspiration is to attend formal school, acquire skills and work in trading, farming or the transport business.”

15-year-old Mohamed’s aspirations are not unusual. Like most young people in Nigeria and around the world, he dreams of creating a better life for himself and his family. But young Mohamed has had an unusual start.

A product of the “Almajiri” system, Mohamed has never received a formal education. Instead, he spent his formative years in traditional Islamic education, where children – mostly boys – spend part of their days memorizing the Qur’an and the rest of the day on the streets, begging for food.   

In May 2020, the Governor of Kano State in northern Nigeria, where a large number of Almajiri children live, formally abolished the traditional system in the State.  Governor Abdullahi Ganduje said that all Almajiri children should be enrolled in formal education.

Despite its noble beginnings, today, the Almajiri system is characterized by social exclusion, chronic poverty and perpetual abuse. Churning out large numbers of young people with no formal education or employable skills, the system poses daunting social and economic challenges to the government and the people themselves.

Neglected, stigmatized and vulnerable to abuse, 60 percent of Almajiri boys never return home. They are left to fend for themselves and little is known about what happens to them after leaving the system.

16-year-old Abdulkarim, another young Almajiri, has now left the system and speaks of the life he looks forward to without being excluded because of his background. He wants to acquire business skills that can better prepare him for a career in entrepreneurship like his peers who went through formal schooling.

“I want to attend school like other young people. I want to acquire skills in trade and commerce and connect with other young people in the same kind of business that I will do after school.”

For former Almajiri children like Mohamed and Abdulkarim, the Generation Unlimited (GenU) platform can help.  GenU is a multi-sector partnership that supports young people between the ages of 10 and 24 to bridge the transition from education and training to employment and entrepreneurship. It brings together public and private partners - and young people themselves - to identify and capitalize on opportunities created by programs that support better outcomes for young people.

UNICEF, UNDP, ILO and private sector partners in Nigeria, under the GenU partnership, explore how Almajiri children who have left the system can be reached with life skills, learning opportunities and practical training that can empower them to find employment and a better future.

Harnessing the sense of unity and solidarity cultivated in the Almajiri system, these young people can benefit from collective training that prepares them for steady employment. Through public and private sector partnership, these apprenticeship trainings can be aligned with current and future market needs for low-medium skilled labour, including recycling systems, brick building, tailoring and other sustainable local business.

Structured entrepreneurial training will equip former Almajiri children with the necessary skills and mindset to identify and launch new ventures - while also creating a pool of trained people the private sector can tap into for skilled labour.

Former Almajiri children show a notable commitment to acquiring knowledge and attending formal schooling through a system that will ensure they acquire the right skills for effective employment in adulthood that goes beyond menial jobs that pay less than the national minimum wage of 30,000 naira.