Child Protection Advocates provide safety nets for vulnerable Somali children
By Iman Morooka
HARGEISA, Northwest Somalia “Somaliland”, 24 February 2011: If it wasn’t for Nimo Daher, a Child Protection Advocate in one of the settlements for displaced people in Hargeisa, neglect and abandonment could have been the destiny of newly born Hussein (not his real name)- the same as many Somali children born out of wedlock.
24-year-old Safia (not her real name) gave birth to Hussein three months ago. However, the father of Hussein refused to marry her or take care of the child, while her relatives disowned her and told her to move out of their home and give the child away. Hussein’s fate seemed bleak as his mother had nowhere to go, no income and no support.
Safia’s situation was brought to the attention of Ms. Daher during her regular community visit and she intervened to make sure Safia receives the necessary support and encouragement so that Hussein can stay with his mother. “I told Safia that everything is going to be all right and that she is not alone.”
Ms. Daher worked closely with the Child Protection Committee in the community to raise funds to assist Safia with housing and other financial needs. They also worked on sensitizing Safia’s neighbors to ensure she doesn’t face stigma and discrimination. Thanks to these efforts, the neighbors are now also part of the regular supporters of Safia and Hussein.
UNICEF’s Child Protection Officer, Issa Ahmed Nur, explains that young unmarried women who get pregnant often have to abandon their children, because of the social stigma attached to pregnancy out of wedlock.“There are many cases of abandoned infants who are found on the street, and if still alive, they are often given to orphanages. Hussein was lucky. I believe it is in his best interest to be raised by his mother, with the support of the community.”
Children in Somalia are exposed to all forms of abuse, violence, exploitation, and lack of care. While Puntland and Somaliland in the north remain fairly stable politically, social welfare systems have been weakened by neglect, influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and lack of capacity of duty bearers.
UNICEF is working with partners towards the creation of a protective environment for children, by increasing the community capacity to care for and protect their children.
With generous contributions from the Government of Japan in 2010 as well as other emergency and UNICEF funds, UNICEF was able to support 68 Child Protection Advocates (CPAs) and 350 Child Protection Committees across the country, responsible for mobilizing communities around child rights as well as monitoring child protection issues and referral of cases to appropriate services.
In Somaliland, UNICEF implements this project through collaboration with NGO CCBRS (Comprehensive Community-based Rehabilitation Services), which runs a network of CPAs and active volunteers.
Badr Ahmed- 13 years old- was hit by a car five years ago on his way home from the market where he was helping his mother with selling milk. His right leg that was badly damaged had to be amputated, while his left leg was fractured. Badr’s mother could not afford to buy him walking aids.
“I was sad and depressed after the accident because I couldn’t go out of my home for two years. I had to crawl because I had nothing to hold on to. My mother and siblings used to keep me company at home when they can, but once they went out, I was lonely.”
Zeinab Farah, the CPA in “State House” settlement for IDPs where Badr lives, heard about his case and consulted with her colleagues at CCBRS regarding appropriate referral. They then decided to refer him to an NGO that provides services for people with disabilities. This allowed Badr to receive walking aids including a prosthetic leg and undergo rehabilitation.
Ms. Farah said that Badr has since been able to go out of his home and enroll back in school. She continues to visit him regularly to follow-up on his condition. “He just told me that the prosthetic leg doesn’t fit him anymore because he has grown, so I will take him back to the NGO so thathe can receive a new one.” mentioned Ms. Farah.
“Now I can play football. I can kick the ball with one of my crutches and sometimes even lean on the crutches and kick the ball with my leg. My favorite subject at school is mathematics. I can’t do hard physical work, so I think I will become a teacher when I grow up.” said Badr with a smile, before he went off to play football with his friends, using a ball that they just made out of an old plastic bag.