Giving Boko Haram Children And Their Mothers Appropriate Socialization, Care
GRIM prospects of having about 16,000 women pregnant with indiscriminate seeds planted by members of the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria’s Northeast is one development that is benumbing to contemplate. But reality checks have it that at the various camps where Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are camped, some women are at various stages of gestation, with some already carrying babies.
Many questions have been asked with regard to how to manage the situation. Some are so alarmed and infuriated that they have offered the extreme position of having the pregnancies terminated. But religious leaders and rights advocates have cried blue murder to that idea. Besides, Nigerian laws do not know pregnancy termination, except in extreme cases of ensuring survival of the mother.
Since that option does not have much support, how is society going to ensure that these women get adequate care, to first wean them off the nightmare of the violations that have suffered, so that they are in good stead to have their babies? Since owners of the pregnancies are nowhere to be found, even if they are located, it might not be easy to match fathers with children, who takes care of the children in the absence of their fathers? Who takes care of the mothers? How is society going to ensure that those children do not live the stigma of being Boko Haram children; and that they get the best in terms of upbringing, education and socialization? These posers are quite heavy, especially when it is considered that the sect’s intention, through this method, was to breed more future terrorists that will unleash terror on the country.
Going forward, respondents have offered diverse methods of managing the situation.
The Director at the Foundation for African Heritage (FACH) and lawyer, Sonnie Ekwowusi said the Federal Government should provide free maternity and rehabilitation homes for the pregnant girls and women to enable them deliver their babies, after which they should be given the option of giving the babies out for legal adoption if, for any reason, they do not want to keep them. But if the Federal Government is incapable of doing this, then it should solicit the assistance of churches, mosques and charitable organisations that are just waiting to be invited.
‘‘Having undergone unspeakable trauma, dehumanization and violence in the hands of their Boko Haram captors, it is illogical to subject the pregnant girls to a traumatic, violent-wrecking and life-threatening abortion process. Nothing good comes easy,” he explains.
Ada Agina-Ude, Executive Director, Gender and Development Action (GADA) would like government to provide an enabling environment for normal upbringing and proper socialization of the children.
According to her, this is what is expected and what obtains in other climes.
On the possibility of the Boko Haram progenitors passing insurgency to the children through their genes, she said government should create opportunities for the children to go to school under conditions that provide wholesome recreational activities, sound moral and religious instructions that can make them responsible citizens. This way, the children might just turn out well in future.
Towards achieving this, government should work with relevant agencies, health workers and medical personnel that will groom and counsel the children appropriately.
Adeola Azeez, founding member Board of Trustee and member of the Executive Council at Women in Business (WIMBIZ), wants the Nigerian government to collaborate with international agencies, experts and bodies to assist all the children born under violent circumstances.
‘‘We cannot handle it alone. That is why we are calling on the support of United Nations and other agencies sympathetic to the Boko Haram issue to kindly come to our aid as a nation. Although the Nigerian government is willing, it is ill-equipped to handle the circumstances of these children and their mothers, without seeking regional and international assistance,” she says.
In Azeez’s view, it becomes imperative for government and relevant agencies to carry out researches, drawing on similar cases around the globe, and developing a special team of local, regional and international experts that would be charged with monitoring and counseling these victims in order to establish the likelihood of their inheriting hostile genes.
‘‘The work of the monitoring team would include applying the finding of cases of incest, religious cult sects, rape and other similar situations of manipulation, intimidating and violence. But there is need to support the children and their families until age 21, when a decision or assessment can be made to determine whether they are now fit to be regarded as responsible Nigerian citizens,” she says.
Will the religious and traditional backgrounds of the parents of the unborn babies be an obstacle to moulding their mindset? Agina-Ude says not necessarily.
‘‘These shouldn’t be allowed to be an obstacle, and it is possible, if they are raised with love in friendly environments, which will help them deal with any stigma.
To Ekwowusi, pregnancy is not a disease that is treated by killing a child. Rather, pregnancy from rape is rare, as only about 1 per cent of raped women become pregnant.
‘‘However, rape is a most objectionable way to get pregnant. But if God in His infinite wisdom decides, in spite of this abomination, to bring a baby into the world, then nothing can be done, as He has a purpose for every child,” he says. ‘‘Let us consider that it is possible that for some of these women, this could be their first and only pregnancy or that they could die from the abortion.
‘‘These women should be able to tell what they want to do with their pregnancy; it is not the decision of the state. While most people may argue that because the babies are coming in this manner, the pregnancies should be aborted, but we should look at our laws and what it says in respect to abortion, which can only be done when there are medical emergencies. It is only in the case of violence against a person, which Bill was recently signed, that abortion can be considered.”
Dr. Abiola Akiyode, Executive Director, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDS), feels it is impossible for the unborn kids to pick up violent traits from their fathers. To her, it is something that shouldn’t come into the picture at all. Rather, the focus should be on how to care properly for the women and their unborn babies.
To Azeez, there are far greater issues to be concerned about and there is no precise way to determine what happens in future.
‘‘What if the mothers only see the children as a constant reminder of the violence they experienced? What if they are disowned by their families for having Boko Haram children and, therefore, shunned by their communities?
In addition, she points to the fact that in the Northeast, which is predominately Muslim, where women issues are taken very seriously, it may be difficult for society to accept that this was an act of violence against the women and not a ‘‘punishment” of sin from God. And this, she noted could be a more serious issue to contend with.
Agina-Ude says individuals have to decide how to deal with their emotions.
‘‘The duty of society is to treat them with love and understanding, but the way each victim turns out cannot really be pre-determined by anyone.”
On the issue of stigma, Azeez believes the unborn children are already stigmatized, hence, the coinage, ‘‘Boko Haram children.”
‘‘It will depend largely on individual decision, help and opportunity that comes to each victim that will determine how they deal with the stigma. The level of support and integration will be a major determinant as well,” she explains.
Agina-Ude feels the children should be given the chance to grow up properly, as giving them the impression that they are abnormal may create more problems for us as a nation.”
Ekwowusi says nothing suggests that Boko Haram-conceived children will follow their fathers’ ideologies because nurture can change any child for good.
‘‘Consider these cases: What if after having four children for her husband, a woman discovers that he is an armed robber, would she kill her children for fear they will all turn out to be armed robbers? Or if after 20 years of a childless marriage, a wife is raped by armed robbers and becomes pregnant; would she readily abort that pregnancy?
‘‘If these women and girls cannot access government support, or in their own families and communities, there are many NGOs and voluntary organisations that are willing to assist them.”
Motherhood, according to him, even when it begins in the worst possible circumstances, can be a positive and healing thing. And to abort a baby for any reason is wrong, as it has been denied his right to life.
‘‘To abort a baby because it was conceived in rape is doubly wrong because you are killing him for the crime committed by his father whom he doesn’t know and could, therefore, not love, and the baby does not even have the right to take its own life in suicide and therefore could not legitimately grant you permission to take his life in place of his father’s, were he to know him and love him.”
For the Nigerian society to successfully tackle the issue, Azeez would want Nigerians, especially those in the northeastern part to always bear in mind that the women are victims of circumstances beyond their control.
‘‘Nigerians have very short memories. Our values and morals have gone down the drain and we are no longer our brothers’ keepers. We can be selfish and do not place a high value on life. It is faith, culture and tradition of a people that determine their ability to cope, when faced with tragedy or good fortune. Hence, government must work closely with NGOs, advocacy groups and community leaders to re-orientate the society so that these victims are not stigmatised.
On the mediacl side, DR. Tochi Alex-Okoro, a medical officer at Kola-ChristWealth Hospital, Isolo, Lagos, said violence is acquired, not hereditary.
He said; “Children who are born from an intercourse with the Boko Haram sect, if taken to a decent environment, they will do well. Most of these people who join the Boko Haram group are just being brainwashed and are not properly oriented and such people can do well in a well-groomed environment because it plays a very key role in the upbringing of a child, it is not genetic. The offspring of these Boko Haram members cannot be judged by the instance of rape which their mothers have gone through or the nature of their fathers. Someone may be borne by legitimate parents and when placed in a violent environment becomes violent.
“Some of these Boko Haram members are exposed to hard drugs, cigarette smoking and those are the things that will affect the unborn child and can cause serious health conditions for the children like deformity, congenital anomalies, and heart conditions. The mothers should be screened properly and taken care of because there are many sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, which may have been passed to the mother. And depending on the mode of management, it may not be passed to the child. Early detection is also the key. Their medical treatment will be multi-factorial, the gynecologist, psychologist and all other essential specialists will be needed. Anti-natal care should be given to the pregnant women and those who have given birth, the child should be properly examined and taken care of. When these children are born, they need support; even some women who give birth in the hospital may have post-partum depression. When the child is born and is placed in a very conducive environment with positive emotions, then the child will grow to become a responsible member of the society.”
Dr. Temilola Olusegun, Sociology Lecturer, at the University of Lagos, Akoka, said Boko Haram victims and offsprings should be solely taken care of by the government for now. She advocates that a very good socialization programme should be set up for them.
She said; “It will involve a school boarding system where they will be taught basic mathematics and English like in conventional schools and the socialization programme will also focus on erasing old memories and the tendencies the off springs might be exposed to if they are not given good educational background. Most of what will be done to the mothers is to reprogramme their mind so that they will not be really disturbed by what they had gone through, and for the children, is to get their minds fixed so that they will become more functional members of the society and contribute to the development of the society.
“The possibility of stigmatization is very low, because I know that Nigerians are very sympathetic people, they may not want to say it to bring down their spirit, and however, it might be extremely difficult for people to recognize them because of the fact that they must have lost their former place of abode due to destructions. The socialization programme, which is a special school programme, will help them overcome the challenge or stigma they may face later. Non-governmental organizations too can join force with the government to re-integrate these children into the society especially those focusing on childcare.
For psychologist Lanre Olusola, CEO Olusola Lanre Coaching Academy (OLCA), these women have gone through psychological and emotional challenges, including their various families. The whole nation is also a victim, in the sense of security that is completely taken away.
He said; “We need to first of all create a sense of security within the environment. We need to showcase the positive side of Nigeria and create a sense of security because it exists; the fact that we can go out and come back to our destinations means that we are secure. These pregnant women and the children who have been born, I believe have been relocated into another environment, which is the first step to re-integration psychologically and emotionally. They should also be taken through therapy sessions to rehabilitate them, which should be done professionally. Support, psychological and emotional therapy towards rehabilitating them into that new environment they will be essential. These girls have dreams, hope for a better tomorrow and so, who will help them with it?
We already know that these girls come from very humble backgrounds. To get these services to them is very expensive. What we are planning to do is to provide the first set of sessions for them for free as part of our own contribution to rehabilitating them. We needs schools that could give them scholarships, funding and new environment or places that they will live in so they could regain their sense of security. Secondly, we need to evaluate the level of damages that have been done to them and then begin theraphy. Some of them will be in theraphy for six or eight months.”