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Somalia, 12 May 2017: A home away from home

© UNICEF Somalia/2017/Sebastian Rich
Foster mother, Sahro Osmail Musa (left), and Sabiriin Jama Warsame, 9.

 
Unaccompanied and separated children find refuge in foster mothers and homes

12 May 2017 – The bright smiles that could light up a room and the color-coordinated purple head scarfs that they both happen to be wearing leave no doubt in my mind that Sahro and young Sabiriin are a mother and daughter duo. But the place where we met is persuading me otherwise. It is a shelter for women once subjected to violence and abuse, and children who are unaccompanied or have been separated from their families.

“I was sent by my parents to come to Kismayo to work,” says Sabiriin, 9, who, despite her shyness, speaks in a crisp voice with careful enunciation. “A relative promised my parents that she would look after me. But once we got off the lorry in the town before Kismayo to get onto another lorry, she disappeared.”

Thanks to the kindness of some bystanders, she was taken to this shelter, run by a UNICEF local partner, NGO SEDHURO. The shelter provides services for children like Sabiriin and also women affected by gender-based violence, which is widespread in Somalia. More than two decades of war has made the country and is now in the grip of a severe drought.

When Sabiriin arrived at the shelter, she was immediately registered and provided with counselling to help her settle down. While the staff at SEDHURO started a tracing process to try to unite her with her family, she was put in a temporary home, where she met her foster mother, Sahro.

“In my eyes, a child is a child, no matter who her real mother is,” says Sahro. “For me, she is just like any of my own children. I welcomed her from the day she was brought to my house.”

Foster mothers like Sahro are supported by SEDHURO with monetary and material incentives. They also receive training on child care and are given awareness in the prevention of violence against children.

“Supporting unaccompanied and separated children is one key element of UNICEF’s child protection work, as they are the most vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation,” says Jean Lokenga, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection.

With 13 NGO partners, including SEDHURO, and a community-based network, UNICEF supported more than 1,000 unaccompanied and separated children like Sabiriin in 2016. Around 5,000 survivors of gender-based violence were also supported with medical and legal services, and some 800 youth were provided with vocational training, including those formerly associated with armed groups, nearly half of whom were girls.

All this work was made possible thanks to a generous contribution of US$5 million from the Government of Japan.

As for Sabiriin, her story has a happy ending – at least for now. On Sunday, 26 February, nine months after being separated from her family, the staff at SEDHURO finally reunited Sibiriin with her mother. However, staff at SEDHURO are concerned about her welfare as her village is among those affected by the ongoing drought emergency. They are now trying to find out whether she is safe and well.

“In good time or bad, the best place for a child to be is his home,” said Mr. Lokenga. “Our work, first and foremost, is to support parents and caregivers to make their homes and families as loving, safe and strong as possible, so that children don’t have to go through what Sibiriin did.”

 

 
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