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In Kenya, minors find essential care in a refugee camp supported by UNICEF

By Cifora Monier

DADAAB, Kenya, 12 October 2012 - The world’s most populated refugee settlement is in Dadaab, North Eastern Province, Kenya. The Dadaab refugee complex comprises Dagahaley, Hagadera, Ifo, Ifo II and Kambioos refugee camps, with a total population of more than 470,000, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports on how young mothers receive essential care in a refugee camp in Kenya.  Watch in RealPlayer


Khadija* is a Somali refugee living in Dadaab. She lost both of her parents at a very young age in Somalia. She was brought up by her grandmother, who died when Khadija was 13 years old, after which she was left to raise herself.

‘Inside in my heart I was dead’

One day, Khadija and two girls from her community went in search of firewood not very far from their homes. All of a sudden, two men appeared from nowhere.

“They blindfolded me and raped me,” says Khadija. She was found, unconscious, by passers-by a few hours later. They 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 in my heart I was dead.”

A few months later, Khadija realized she was pregnant. Being unmarried and pregnant is taboo for her community and culture.

One day, an acquaintance asked Khadija if she wanted to accompany her to Dadaab. Although she did not know where Dadaab was, she joined the woman. “I just knew deep in my heart that, if I stayed, my life was over,” says Khadija.

Support for underage children

In Dadaab, with the support of UNICEF, Save the Children UK registers and assists all minors who are unaccompanied, or who have been separated from their families when they arrive from Somalia.

A fostering system is also part of the programme supported by UNICEF for cases such as Khadija’s.

“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,” says Chief of Child Protection for UNICEF Kenya Jean-François Basse.

Nura* is a kind-faced elderly Somali woman. A mother of two, she has been living in Dadaab as a refugee since she fled Somalia in 2003.

Nura is a block leader. The refugee camps are organized into blocks of seven families with a designated leader. It is the responsibility of each block leader to know the people who live in the block, including their backgrounds and ongoing activities. Block leaders are also aware of all procedures and of the services that are provided for the refugees and host communities.

“I took Khadija to Save the Children UK to be formally registered as an underage minor without any family members and relatives in Dadaab. I also formalized the foster parenting arrangements,” says Nura.

‘All I want is a better future’

Soon after the procedures were completed and endorsed, Khadija gave birth to a baby boy. She was 15 years old. Khadija and her baby now live with Nura and her two children.

Today, Khadija is enrolled in a Child Mother Support Group run by Save the Children UK and supported by UNICEF.

When asked what her hope for the future is, Khadija says, “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.”

 *Names have been changed to protect identities.



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