Despite challenges, UNICEF partners in Mogadishu strive to reach women and children
© UNICEF Somalia/2010/Morooka
By Iman Morooka
MOGADISHU, Somalia, 29 September 2010 – It is hard to think of a place where children are more at risk than Somalia.
As fighting continues in the capital, Mogadishu, and in other parts of the central southern regions of the country, violations of children’s rights are taking place on a daily basis by various parties with almost full impunity. Children do not have access to basic services and their lives are directly threatened. An entire generation is growing up knowing only conflict.
The level and scale of grave violations against children in Somalia have been increasing over the past few years, including the use and recruitment of children in the armed conflict and the killing and maiming of children. In Mogadishu alone, thousands of children are suffering under the direct impact of one of the most intense and indiscriminate conflicts.
Support for victims
Despite the volatile security situation, local non-governmental organizations continue to work to prevent and respond to violations committed against children by mobilizing communities around child rights and providing necessary services to victims.
The Coalition for Grassroots Women’s Organizations (COGWO) is one of UNICEF’s partners that provide psycho-social support to victims of the conflict in Mogadishu and their families. It also helps women suffering from severe complications caused by early child birth and Female Genital cutting (FGC).
The hospital run by the African Union Mission in Somalia is one of the medical facilities where social workers of COGWO operate. There, COGWO conducts psycho-social assessments of patients and identifies those that require support.
“So far, we supported almost 9,000 cases at this hospital alone, with an average of 80 cases per day,” said COGWO Executive Director Zahra Mohamed. “The number of cases requiring basic counseling is increasing day by day.
“Patients often suffer symptoms like anger, nightmares, body weakness, self-neglect, a sense of fear and general sense of helplessness,” she continued, adding that some even need help in satisfying their own hunger and thirst. Using methods including role playing, storytelling and music, the staff at COGWO work to promote patient recovery and enhance their resilience.
Safe haven from violence
“Protection needs are higher than ever in Somalia,” said Chief of Protection in UNICEF Somalia Isabella Castrogiovanni. “Even when children survive the first five years of their lives, many of them may fall victim of the armed conflict or other serious abuses at home or in their community.”
Girls, she added, are particularly vulnerable.
UNICEF is supporting partners across Somalia to ensure that children who have experienced violations of their rights have better access to recovery services. Between January and May 2010, more than 54,000 children affected by emergencies in Somalia had received school- or community-based psycho-social support. A network of monitors is helping to identify violation cases and refer victims to appropriate services.
Across Somalia, UNICEF-supported ’child-friendly spaces’ – protected places specifically for children – provide safe locations for children to play, socialize, learn and express themselves. These activities reduce the distressing effects brought on by violent armed conflict and forced displacement.
“In such an extreme environment, protection is an integral and essential component of UNICEF’s humanitarian response in Somalia,” said Ms. Castrogiovanni. “it is a life-saving intervention for many of those vulnerable children.” Long-term commitment and sustained funding, she added, are crucial to continuing the work and building local capacity.
Despite the security conditions, which pose various obstacles and risks, child-friendly spaces and psycho-social support activities demonstrate that implementing child protection programmes is possible and productive – even in Mogadishu.