Safeguarding dignity, health of pregnant teenagers in IDP camps
THE Makohi camp in Yola, Adamawa State in northeastern Nigeria is home to the 275 women and children who were recently rescued from the Sambisa forest – the strongholds of the insurgency group, Boko Haram.
Prior to their rescue, the camp was home to about 845 Internally Displaced Persons. With the arrival of the recently rescued women and children, the camp now houses more than 1,000 people. On the surface it feels like normal life has resumed for many of the camp’s residents. Children playing in the field, joyful tales of family reunions shared among the women and girls. A case in point is Hauwa Mohammed, an adolescent who was reunited with her parents after seven months in captivity.
But for most, life is anything but normal. They are enduring the trauma of being abducted, abused and having their hopes dashed and future undermined. Some report having being raped. Others were forced to watch their husbands slaughtered, their homes burnt and their children abducted.
Hafsat Lai is a 26-year old and mother of three.
She recounts her story from the day she was captured: “When gunmen came to my village 11 months ago, killing everyone in sight, I thought I could escape. But I was wrong.”
She was abducted in Yaza, under the Gwoza local government in Borno State. The day of her abduction was the last time she saw her two sons, Bawa and Mohammed, 8 and 6 years old respectively. She was left to care for her third son, 2 year old Ismail.
Many other women, she said, were separated from their children as well. “When the shooting stopped, we were all led like animals into the forest. I saw babies die and watched in pain as children were asked to bury them. In Sambisa forest, I was asked to renounce my religion or be treated as a slave. I refused, and I was flogged daily. I did the chores and was given maize and guinea corn peels to eat. At that time, it meant a lot because some days I had nothing to eat”.
There are other tales of terror, such as that of a 24-year old woman who was abducted 5 months ago and was forced to marry one of the insurgents, making her his fourth wife, or the 16 year old girl who delivered in the forest without any medical aid.
For the Country Representative United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Ms. Ratidzai Ndlovu, “It is to these victims of insurgency that the United Nations Population Fund is providing essential reproductive health services and psychosocial support, as well as counseling to begin the process of recovery and to ease the burden of re-integration into the society”.
Following the arrival of the women and girls, UNFPA delivered reproductive health kits to the nearest health facility to the camp. The kits contain supplies for safe delivery, rape treatment, pregnancy test kits and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In addition, about 350 dignity kits, including 300 dresses have been provided.
Earlier on, UNFPA had trained a total of 183 health workers in the Minimum Initial Service Package for Reproductive Health in Humanitarian settings (MISP). These training sessions have enhanced the capacity of health workers to implement MISP and provide sexual and reproductive health services to the victims of insurgency. The Fund has also trained over 50 medical doctors and nurses in the Clinical Management of rape and an additional 121 health and social workers in psychosocial counseling.
As the military steps up its offensive against the insurgents, UNFPA is strengthening its services in anticipation of additional freed hostages and we are committed to safeguarding the health and dignity of the most vulnerable during this humanitarian crisis.
After the trauma of being forcefully captured from their homes, starved almost to death and violently abused by their abductors, victims of the Boko Haram insurgency begin the process of healing through a series of psychosocial support provided by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in partnership with the Japanese Government.
Now a free woman, Zainab Danfu tells her story. “I remember hearing gunshots and feeling afraid. I ran to save my life and that of my six children but I was not fast enough”. In the midst of the chaos she remembers the gun men saying “we are looking for your men, do not run” but she recounts running nonetheless and being captured by the insurgent group and led to Gwoza community, after which she was taken to Sambisa Forest along with other victims.
Zainab was in her trimester at the time she was kidnapped “I lost my baby” she said as she wiped her tears with the back of her palm, “but I had to remain strong for the others”.
Zainab Danfu is one of the groups of women receiving psychosocial support in the camp. When asked about her countenance towards her captors, she says she cannot forget what has been done to her but she hopes to overcome the anger and hurt she feels.
“Many of the women undergoing counseling have suffered some excruciating loss” says Chris Sebum, a psychosocial specialist.
The counseling we provide is a psychological first aid to promote their sense of safety, to restore their hope and begin the process of healing.
A grim picture of this loss for example, is reflected in the story of Fatima Usane, a 27 year old mother of three who watched her husband killed and her three children taken away from her. Like Zainab she was pregnant but providentially, she had a safe delivery. However, the uncertainty and fear that her three missing children are dead has limited her joy and has had a setback on her physical and mental health.
According to experts, when victims go through trauma, they are often affected on five levels, Physical, Social, Emotional, Intellectual and Spiritual. UNFPA together with the Japanese government is in the process of rehabilitating the women in a holistic and comprehensive manner, engaging them on four levels of psychosocial support (Pss).
Ms. Ratidzai Ndhlovu, the Representative to UNFPA in Nigeria said: “We respond to their physical needs by providing dignity and reproductive Health kits. We also support the medical costs of pregnant women; the social, emotional and intellectual needs are addressed by a combination of PSS activities such as, groups and individual counselling, psycho-education, psychiatric referral and the provision of culturally appropriate dresses to all the women and girls to replace the torn and shabby dresses they wore for months throughout their captivity.
The Regional Director of West and Central Africa, Mr. Mabingue Ngom while addressing the rescued women said: “UNFPA is committed to you, to your health and state of being. We will not stop, neither will we rest until your needs are met, your health is restored and your hope is strengthened. You are not alone”.
But despite the successes announced by the Nigerian military in the fight against insurgency in the North East, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has continued to rise in the various camps set up in Borno and Adamawa States, officials have said.
Similarly, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Adamawa State Emergency Management Agency
(SEMA) and the Borno State Ministry of Health yesterday refuted rumours abortion and sterilization was being administered on women and girls who were sexually abused by the insurgents.
They observed that though some of the women were pregnant when the Military rescued them from Sambisa Forest in Borno State and other locations, the choice of what to do with the condition lay squarely on the shoulders of the victims and their families.
In the meantime, the partners say they are providing counseling and psychosocial services to the people in the camp to enable them live normal lives again.
Speaking to newsmen at a teleconference in Abuja this week, Commissioner of Health in Borno State, Dr. Salma Kolo noted that the number of persons admitted to the camps was not abating.
She said: “When the crises by Boko Haram which affected a lot of women and with the abduction of over 200 school girls last year broke out, we worked very closely with UNFPA. A lot of counselors have been trained and then we received support from UNFPA and we conducted assessment within the areas affected: Chibok and surrounding communities. We were able to map out the affected facilities and provide counseling for lots of them. Part of the activities we had recently was the support in the coordination of the core technical group towards the provisions of psycho social counseling and support to affected families and those that have been rescued.
“At the moment, we have about 21 camps and we have about 45, 000 IDPs within the camps. This was about two weeks ago. The major challenge we have is the burden of care.
“We are still receiving a lot of IDPs coming. In the last one week, we received over 6000 IDPs. Almost 80% of them are women and children. Also, we are receiving a lot of women that are pregnant and a lot of them are having babies within the camp. The major challenge also is the human resources, particularly nurses and midwives.
Another major challenge that we have is trying to identify women, especially girls that have been abused by Boko Haram. They are not easily opening up because of the issues of stigma that they are afraid of in the community.”
On the rumours of abortions in the camps, she refuted the story and noted that such was not on the agenda of the camps.
His words: “No abortion is taking place here in Borno. What we are doing is that we have set up a centre for psychosocial support and rehabilitation, where we take girls from the camp and take for training and trauma management. We don’t have cases of abortions within our camps in Borno.
“Where there are cases of pregnancies, we don’t decide for the people affected. We provide counseling to them. We also counsel them with their family members to make informed decisions. Based on their decisions, they are referred for better management. The teaching Hospital is one of the places we refer them to. The decision is left to the individual victim and also the affected family members.”
The governor of Borno state, Kashim Shettima, added a spiritual twist to the issue when he said that terror group, Boko Haram deliberately impregnated the 214 girls recently rescued by the army in the Sambisa forest on the border with Cameroun. Governor Shettima was quoted saying: “These people (Boko Haram) have a certain spiritual conviction that any child they father will grow to inherit their ideology whether they live with the children or not.”
Boko Haram impregnated girls ‘to guarantee new generation of fighters’, “They also believe that whoever does not hold their ideology is an unbeliever that should be killed and rendered homeless and whatever belongs to him or becomes a legitimate booty recovered from enemies,” he continued.
“After getting their captives pregnant, they keep them to allow the pregnancy mature to an extent of say four or more months to make abortion difficult or impossible for the women due to threats in carrying out abortions at that level.
“They abandon the women afterwards to go and give birth anywhere else. In most cases, the women return home or get helped by traditional birth attendants.” The views on what to do with the pregnancies have also gotten the attention of the Catholic Church.
Similarly, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) has kicked against calls from some quarters that mass abortion be performed for the pregnant women recently rescued from the Boko Haram captivity. CBCN called on the federal government to put in place a mechanism to take care of the women and the children as soon as they are born.
Chairman of the Health Committee of CBCN and the Auxiliary Bishop of Abuja Catholic Archdiocese, Most Reverend Anselm Umoren is concerned concern over the traumatizing experiences endured by the women under the Boko Haram captivity, however said that the children’s right to life need to be respected.
He noted that aborting the babies would amount to repaying violence with a more vicious violence. The Bishops posit that since the babies were ignorant and innocent of the crimes against their mothers, it would be unethical to punish them for the sins of their fathers.
He said, “How can we accept to visit with capital punishment (death sentence by abortion) on young Nigerians simply because their fathers were misguided religious and ideological bigots? It is not tenable the suggestion that killing the babies conceived through rape by terrorists is the most humane action to take in this instance. The Catholic Bishops on behalf of the babies urge the mothers to show maternal love for the Nigerian children they now bear.”
General Overseer, Mansion Gospel Ministries International, Akesan, Lagos, Reverend Ezekiel Daudu, said: “I believe that such pregnancy should be terminated. When David, in the Bible, sinned against God by committing adultery with Uriah’s wife, after the birth of the child, the baby died because it is not of God. Some people believe abortion is not biblical. For instance, a woman that is raped by armed robbers and got pregnant, will you allow such child to live? My advice to the Federal Government is to take a good step of faith by terminating those pregnancies. They were raped and as long as they set their eyes on the child, they will always live with bitterness.”
But on the contrary, a Pastor in the Cherubim & Seraphim Movement Church, Zion Branch, Ojodu, Lagos, Pastor Stephen Bodunrin, said “those pregnancies should not be terminated. Government should take full responsibility. I don’t believe they would become terror. Federal government should get their mothers empowered.
Head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and former Commissioner at the National Human Rights Commission, Emmanuel Onwubiko called for special funds to take care of the hundreds of women, girls and children dehumanized by the insurgents.
He told The Guardian: “These girls whose dignity has been wantonly abused and desecrated by these murderous terrorists deserve our national apology and indeed should and must be resettled and rehabilitated and also actively supported by the Nigerian State to regain their humanity, sacred and constitutional dignity so recklessly abused and violated. These girls must be placed under special care in far away communities and possibly resettled in a third country in Europe to begin meticulous periods of rebuilding and regaining of their essence as human persons.
On those already pregnant for the insurgents, he supported the positions of UNFPA that the affected ladies should be well catered for.
He noted: “I am not in support of aborting the babies but these pregnant rescued girls must be adequately cared for by the Federal Government as aforementioned until these babies are delivered and possibly given out for adoption. Importantly, these girls must not be left in their communities for fear of stigma and discrimination that would follow from the notorious knowledge of the unfortunate fate that befell them. It is constitutionally obligatory that the Federal Government and their respective State governments partner to also fashion out, in a practical manner, ways and means of funding and caring for them until either the babies are given away for adoption or these girls are radically transformed financially, academically, vocationally and empowered to be capable of taking care of themselves by themselves. Financial support to the take care for the displaced persons is also increasing.
The United States Government has provided $44 million (about N8.7 billion) in humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons in the North-East of the country.
In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Abuja said the U.S. Agency for International Development had also awarded a $10.5 million (about N2billion) to Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states.
The grant is in continuation of U.S. humanitarian assistance to the IDPs in the three states and is expected to support activities of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and World Health Organisation (WHO) to improve access to health care services to the affected states.
U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle stressed: “With this new funding, total U.S. humanitarian assistance since the start of the crisis is nearly $44 million. As we look forward to Nigeria’s success, the U.S. remains committed to extending our partnership to support the Nigerian people’s vision to accelerate this country’s economic and social development.”
The USAID Mission Director, Michael Harvey, sealed the grants with the three UN agencies and the governors of the three states.
“The funding will supply nutritional supplements for malnourished children and health care services to those living in camps and with host communities,” it stated.
The fund is expected to provide clean water and sanitation, hygiene supplies and protection services to affected populations.
USAID said it is also supporting several humanitarian, transitional and longer-term development activities in North-East in collaboration with the federal, state and local government levels.
The US govt added: “Current and forthcoming activities will improve governmental capacity and performance; strengthen food security and water policy.It will also expand the reach and effectiveness of health and education initiatives, and provide services for internally displaced persons in North-East Nigeria. USAID efforts in the North-East are focused in Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, and Yobe States.”
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