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Child Protection Advocates provide a safety net for vulnerable Somali children

© UNICEF Somalia/ 2011/ Morooka
Child Protection Advocate Nimo Daher (left) counsels Safia (not her real name), who has been disowned by her relatives and is raising her infant son alone at a settlement for displaced people in Hargeisa, located in Somaliland, Somalia.

By Iman Morooka

HARGEISA, Somalia, 7 March 2011 – If it wasn’t for Nimo Daher, a Child Protection Advocate in one of the settlements for displaced people in Hargeisa, a city in Somaliland, baby Hussein (not his real name) would have likely suffered neglect and abandonment.

That’s the fate of many Somali children born out of wedlock. When Safia (not her real name), 24, gave birth to Hussein three months ago, she faced an uncertain future. The child’s father refused to marry her or take care of the child. Safia’s relatives disowned her, telling her to move out of their home and give the child away. She had nowhere to go, no income and no support.

Helping young mothers

Ms. Daher learned of Safia’s situation during her regular community visits. The effect was immediate. “I told Safia that everything is going to be all right and that she is not alone,” she recalls. Ms. Daher intervened to make sure Safia received the necessary support and encouragement so that Hussein could stay with his mother.

That meant working closely with the Child Protection Committee (CPC) in the community to raise funds to assist Safia with housing and other financial needs. Ms. Daher and the committee also worked on sensitizing Safia’s neighbours to ensure she didn’t face stigma and discrimination. Thanks to these efforts, the neighbours are supportive of the young mother and her child.

© UNICEF Somalia/2011/Morooka
Zahra Omar, a Child Protection Advocate, teaches children in Hargeisa, Somaliland, where she and other advocates create awareness and mobilize communities around issues of child protection.

The same cannot be said for other mothers in similar circumstances. Young unmarried women who get pregnant often have to abandon their children because of the social stigma attached to pregnancy out of wedlock.

“Hussein was lucky,” said UNICEF Child Protection Officer Issa Ahmed Nur. “There are many cases of abandoned infants who are found on the street, and if still alive, they are often given to orphanages.”

Support for children

Children in Somalia are exposed to all forms of abuse, violence, exploitation, and lack of care. In the semi-autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland, in particular, social welfare systems have been weakened by neglect, an influx of displaced persons and overall lack of capacity.

UNICEF is working with partners towards the creation of a protective environment for children by increasing community capacity to care for and protect them.

© UNICEF Somalia/2011/Morooka
Badr, 13, walks with Child Protection Advocate Zeinab Farah at 'State House' settlement for displaced people in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Ms. Farah helped Badr access rehabilitation services after he lost his leg in an accident.

With generous contributions from the Government of Japan as well as other emergency and UNICEF funds, UNICEF currently supports 68 Child Protection Advocates (CPAs) and 350 CPCs across the country. They are responsible for mobilizing communities around child rights as well as monitoring child protection issues and referring cases to appropriate services.

In Somaliland, UNICEF implements the project through collaboration with the non-governmental organization Comprehensive Community-based Rehabilitation Services (CCBRS), which runs a network of CPAs and volunteers.

A new beginning

Badr, 13, has benefited from the project. He was hit by a car five years ago on his way home from the market, where he was helping his mother sell milk. His right leg was so badly damaged it had to be amputated, but his mother could not afford to buy 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,” Badr said. “My mother and siblings used to keep me company at home when they could, but once they went out, I was lonely.”

Zeinab Farah, the CPA in the settlement for displaced people where Badr lives, heard about his case and consulted with her CCBRS colleagues. They referred him to a non-governmental organization that provides services for people with disabilities. This allowed Badr to undergo rehabilitation and receive walking aids, including a prosthetic leg.

For Badr, it’s been a new beginning. He has now enrolled back in school and can even play football again. “I can kick the ball with one of my crutches,” he said, “and sometimes even lean on the crutches and kick the ball with my leg.”



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