I am a Mother and I am only 15 years old
By Cifora Monier
DADAAB, Kenya, 11 October 2012 - “I came to Dadaab in 2011 with a woman from Somalia. She was not my mother or my relative; she was a woman from my village and community who took sympathy on me,” says Khadija*.
Khadija is a Somali refugee living in the world’s most populated refugee camp in Dadaab, North Eastern Kenya. The Dadaab refugee complex comprises Hagadera, Ifo, Ifo II and Dagahaley refugee camps, with a population of more than 500,000 refugees, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Khadija lost both of her parents at a very young age in Somalia. She was brought up by her maternal grandmother who unfortunately died when Khadija was only thirteen years old.
After her grandmother’s death Khadija had to fend for herself as best as she could even though she had maternal aunts. “My aunts thought I was old enough to look after myself after my grandmother died. I can understand that as they had so many children to take care of and feed.”
‘Inside my heart I was dead’
As per her daily habit Khadija and two girls from her community went out in search of firewood not very far from their homes. All of a sudden two men appeared from nowhere.
“We immediately knew there was a problem. We all panicked in fear. The two girls who were with me somehow managed to run away. I found myself blocked by the two men,” says Khadija.
In the panic and the horror that followed the two girls who managed to escape never told or alerted anyone in their community.
“They blind-folded me and raped me,” says a tearful Khadija.
She was found unconscious by passers-by a few hours later who managed to carry her to her aunt’s house.
“My aunties refused to take me to see a doctor although I was very sick. They gave me traditional medicines themselves. When I got stronger I went back to my own house, but inside my heart I was dead.”
After a few months Khadija realised she was pregnant. Pregnant without a husband or marriage was a big taboo for her community and culture.
“When people realized I was pregnant, I was immediately discriminated against. The people in my community, including my aunts, were not very good to me. I suffered a lot of pain.”
‘I knew if I stayed my life was over’
“One day I was sitting outside feeling sad and alone, a woman I barely knew came and asked me if I wanted to accompany her to Dadaab. I did not hesitate a moment even though I did not know how far or where Dadaab was from our village. I just knew deep in my heart that if I stayed my life was over.”
Although Khadija hardly knew the woman who asked her to accompany her, the pain of being treated as an outcast by her community and family was emotionally draining on this innocent child.
The woman who brought Khadija from Somalia to Dadaab in Kenya was joining her daughter who was a refugee in one of the five camps in Dadaab.
“I did not know that Dadaab was in Kenya or a refugee camp. I only understood all that when we arrived and the Block Leader of the camp where the lady’s daughter was staying explained everything to me.”
Nura* is a kind-faced elderly Somali woman, a mother of two children who has been living in Dadaab as a refugee since she fled Somalia in 2003. She also happens to be a Block Leader.
The refugee camps are organized into blocks comprised of seven families with a designated block leader. It is the responsibility of each block leader to know the people who live in the block, including their backgrounds and ongoing activities.
“When I saw Khadija for the first time I saw something very sad and very dark in her eyes. The women she came with could not look after her. I felt sorry for her and invited her to stay with me. However, Khadija was pregnant and did not know how many months she was pregnant.” says Nura.
UNICEF Kenya’s Chief of Child Protection, Jean Francois Basse, says, “During an emergency the best family care arrangements are made. From our experience most of the recipient families who host the children do not expect a reward from NGOs or UN agencies.”
As a Block Leader, Nura is aware of all the procedures and services that are provided for the refugees and the host communities.
With the support of UNICEF, Save the Children UK, registers and assists all under age-minors who are unaccompanied, or who are separated from families and relatives when they arrive in Dadaab from Somalia. A family-fostering system is also part of the programme supported by UNICEF for cases such as Khadija's.
“I took Khadija, to Save the Children UK to be formally registered as an under-age minor without any family members and relatives in Dadaab. I also formalized the foster parenting arrangements.” says Nura.
Soon after the procedures were completed and endorsed, at the age of fifteen Khadija gave birth to a baby boy. Khadija and her baby live with Nura and her two children as a family.
“I am Khadija’s official foster mother. Khadija and her baby are now my children and I don’t treat them differently from my own children. I will be Khadija’s mother and her baby’s grandmother until the end of my days on this earth.”
‘All I want is a better future’
Today Khadija is enrolled in a Child Mothers Support Group, run by Save the Children UK, and supported by UNICEF.
When asked what her hope for the future was, Khadija could not have been more succinct: “My dream is to complete my sewing training at the Child Mother Support Group so that I can look after my baby properly. When he is big and goes to school, I will also go to school to learn how to read and write. I don’t want to remember what has happened, all I want is a better future for me and my baby. ”
“The Child Mother Support Group is a programme that will help Khadija learn a skill to earn an income and support herself and her child. This will enable her to be independent once she is 18 years old."
"Khadija attends counselling sessions that help her to re-build her self-esteem and also help her cope with being a child mother. She can relate and share experiences with young girls who are in similar situations, providing support to each other,” says Flora Awiti, Paediatric Counsellor for Save the Children UK.
*Both names have been changed to protect their identities.