UNFPA: Situation in Northeast still volatile

The strength of UNFPA is on rehabilitation of survivors, who have gone through this type of violence. I have mentioned the three-pronged approach, which we use for the rehabilitation. We are not experts in how to get them released, but we are truly happy to have them released. And we are hopeful that the remaining girls will be released.

Eugene Kongnyuy is the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Deputy Representative in Nigeria. He spoke to journalists on how the UN Agency is helping in medical, psychosocial rehabilitation and livelihood support for the released Chibok schoolgirls, as well as efforts being made to ensure they proceed to the university. Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze was there.
Some Chibok girls are back in Nigeria. How traumatic was their experience?
The truth is that these girls went through violence. Their rights have been violated. They are violated physically, emotionally, sexually and the likes. They have been traumatised, and they lost part of their childhood, being under captivity, treated as slaves.

Is UNFPA comfortable with the swapping of the girls with Boko Haram fighters?
The strength of UNFPA is on rehabilitation of survivors, who have gone through this type of violence. I have mentioned the three-pronged approach, which we use for the rehabilitation. We are not experts in how to get them released, but we are truly happy to have them released. And we are hopeful that the remaining girls will be released.

How is UNFPA helping the girls to reintegrate into the society?
UNFPA is supporting the 24 girls that were released, 21 plus three, and now 82 girls have also been released. They are under the custody of the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs. We received a request from the Minister on certain specific areas that UNFPA has operative advantage. These include physical rehabilitation, medical rehabilitation, psychosocial rehabilitation, as well as livelihood support.

Basically, what I mean by physical rehabilitation is to provide the girls with their personal effects needs, which include proper dressing and the likes. In terms of medical support, the 24 girls had serious medical problems, when they went through medical screening and diagnosis, and they were all treated. They are healthy now. In terms of psychosocial support, they had serious psychosocial trauma, as they had gone through serious trauma. They have lost basically their childhood, their adolescence, missed three years of adolescence and gone through violence: sexual, physical and emotional. And, they needed some sort of psychosocial rehabilitation.

In terms of nutrition, many of them were malnourished; they needed some balanced diet to get back to normal. They also needed a shelter where they can live. The government is providing that. And, we also offered livelihood support. They were asked whether they wanted to return to school or they wanted to follow a vocational training track. They divided themselves into two groups. Teachers were recruited to help fast-track the preparation of those that decided to pursue formal education. Recall they were about to write JAMB, when they were kidnapped, so that they can go to the university.

For those that wanted vocation training, many of them chose to be trained as psychotherapists, while some of them are undertaking ICT training. These are the different forms of trainings they are offered, so that they can by themselves establish small businesses or get job, when they get themselves integrated back into the community.

You have been speaking on the initial 24 girls that were released. Have you had access to the 82 that were released recently?
I had a bilateral meeting with the Minister of Women Affairs on May 8. And they were still undertaking medical assessment at that point in time. We in UNFPA have not been able to see them, because they said the girls were undertaking medical assessment, as they had similar medical problems just like the previous 24. We are hopeful that once the assessment is done, the necessary training is given, then, they will go to where they are supposed to live and that they will take similar nine-month rehabilitation programme as the previous 24 girls.

In which area do you want the Nigerian government to step up services for the girls? You said the girls suffered serious trauma and the likes in captivity…
I think the government is providing all the support. Special attention is being given to these girls, thanks to Senator Aisha, the Minister of Women Affairs. She has been marvellous in this. Her support has been really tremendous. In terms of medical care, they all went through some sort of medical assessment to identify the medical problem they had. And, some of them had very serious medical problems. An example is one who had bullet just beside the heart until she was received, and through medical assessment went through an operation to remove the bullet. These are not simple medical type of thing. The government is taking care of that. I believe they have been receiving appropriate medical care.

Have you any fear regarding their reintegration into the society, given the trauma and other inhuman treatments they received in the hands of their captors?
There are concerns about their reintegration because it raises stigma within the community. When four of the girls, who have children were asked whether they would return to Chibok, they said even if they are going, they will not take their children along. The girls were asked this question individually. Probably the reason is that they feel they will not be accepted, if they go with children. And, probably, they could be branded, given such brand names as Boko Haram children, Boko Haram wives, and so on. So, they feel stigmatised.

UNFPA’s approach is three-pronged. Survival based approach, which we are doing, is ensuring the survivors of this type of violence receive necessary rehabilitation. But, we also are keen on ensuring that there is a human rights based approach, that the human rights principles are respected, as this is happening. The last approach is community-based approach, which is ensuring that the community accepts them, and that they can be reintegrated into the community. That one is a bit long term, but the immediate support is going on. We need a long-term strategy, how to work with traditional and religious leaders, with families and the entire community to accept them, when they return to their original town.

How do you see the shielding of the girls from the public by security officials, especially their relatives? Is it not infringing on their rights?
Certainly, UNFPA is concerned. While rehabilitating the girls, one of the approaches is human right-based approach, which has been followed. It may not be perfect, making sure that they have access to health care is a human right. It is their right to have access to health care, just as it is their right to have access to education. It is their right to have access to food and psychosocial support. All these may not be perfect, but for the moment, I’m hopeful that the government is doing all it can do to get things right.

Is UNFPA expanding its services to others who have been released besides Chibok girls?
To UNFPA, any girl or woman that is abducted and released is a Chibok girl. In fact, before the Chibok girls’ release, UNFPA had been doing some works in the northeast, and continues to do it. The rehabilitation of other girls and women, who went through similar trauma and were released, we believe they should receive equal treatment in terms of having different sources of rehabilitation, including psychosocial, medical, physical and livelihood supports. We do have programmes in the northeast that provide these services for those who were released and were not in Chibok.

How worried is the UNFPA about the use of some of these girls as suicide bombers?
The situation in the northeast is pathetic, because we have seen some children being used as suicide bombers, not necessarily those kidnapped and released. That is why the situation in the northeast still remains volatile. It doesn’t necessarily involve those who have been kidnapped and released. So, it is a concern to us because it is a security issue.

How is UNFPA helping the girls to reintegrate into the society?
UNFPA is supporting the 24 girls that were released, 21 plus three, and now 82 girls have also been released. They are under the custody of the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs. We received a request from the Minister on certain specific areas that UNFPA has operative advantage. These include physical rehabilitation, medical rehabilitation, psychosocial rehabilitation, as well as livelihood support.

Basically, what I mean by physical rehabilitation is to provide the girls with their personal effect needs, which include proper dressing and the likes. In terms of medical support, the 24 girls had serious medical problems, when they went through medical screening and diagnosis, and they were all treated. They are healthy now. In terms of psychosocial support, they had serious psychosocial trauma, as they had gone through serious trauma. They have lost basically their childhood, their adolescence, missed three years of adolescence and gone through violence: sexual, physical and emotional. And, they needed some sort of psychosocial rehabilitation.

In terms of nutrition, many of them were malnourished; they needed some balanced diet to return to normal. They also needed shelter, where they can live. The government is providing that. And, we also offered livelihood support. They were asked whether they wanted to return to school or they wanted to follow a vocational training track. They divided themselves into two groups. Teachers were recruited to help fast-track the preparation of those that decided to pursue formal education. Recall they were about to write JAMB, when they were kidnapped, so that they can go to university.

For those that wanted vocation training, many of them chose to be trained as psychotherapists, while some of them are undertaking ICT training. These are the different forms of trainings they are offered, so that they can by themselves establish small businesses or get job, when they get integrated back into the community.

You have been speaking on the initial 24 girls that were released. Have you had access to the 82 that were released recently?
I had a bilateral meeting with the Minister of Women Affairs last Monday (May 8). And they were still undertaking medical assessment at that point in time. We in UNFPA have not been able to see them, because they said the girls were undertaking medical assessment, as they had similar medical problems just like the previous 24. We are hopeful that once the assessment is done, the necessary training is given, then, they will go where they are supposed to live and they will take similar nine-month rehabilitation programme as the previous 24 girls.

In which area do you want the Nigerian government to step up services for the girls? You said the girls suffered serious trauma and the likes in captivity…
I think the government is providing all the support. Special attention is being given to these girls, thanks to Senator Aisha, the Minister of Women Affairs. She has been marvellous in this regard. Her support has been really tremendous. In terms of medical care, they all went through some sort of medical assessment to identify the medical problem they had. And, some of them had very serious medical problems. An example is one who had bullet just beside the heart until she was received, and through medical assessment went through an operation to remove the bullet. These are not simple medical type of thing. The government is taking care of that. I believe they have been receiving appropriate medical care.

Have you any fear over the girls’ reintegration into the society, given the trauma and other inhuman treatments they received in the hands of their captors?
There are concerns about their reintegration because it raises stigma within the community. When four of the girls, who have children were asked whether they would return to Chibok, they said even if they are going, they will not take their children along. The girls were asked this question individually. Probably the reason is that they feel they will not be accepted, if they go with children. And, probably, they could be branded, given such brand names as Boko Haram children, Boko Haram wives, and so on. So, they feel stigmatised.

UNFPA approach is three-pronged. Survival based approach, which we are doing, is ensuring the survivors of this type of violence receive necessary rehabilitation. But, we also are keen on ensuring that there is a human right based approach, that the human rights principles are respected, as this is happening. The last is community-based approach, which is ensuring that the community accepts them, and that they can be reintegrated into the community. That one is a bit long term, but the immediate support is going on. We need a long-term strategy, how to work with traditional and religious leaders, with families and the entire community to accept them, when they return to their original town.

How do you see shielding of the girls from the public by security officials, especially their relatives? Is it not infringing on their rights?
Certainly, UNFPA is concerned. While rehabilitating the girls, one of the approaches is human right-based approach, which has been followed. It may not be perfect, making sure that they have access to health care is human right. It is their right to have access to health care, just as it is their right to have access to education. It is their right to have access to food and psychosocial support. All of these are their rights. It is also their right to have security, protection from the state. All these may not be perfect, but for the moment, I’m hopeful that the government is doing all it can do to get things right.

We know kidnapping of the Chibok girls has been symbolic, but there are thousands of other girls and women that have undergone the same abduction and the consequent inhuman treatments. Is UNFPA expanding its services to some of these other group of people that have been released?
To UNFPA, any girl or woman that is abducted and released is a Chibok girl. In fact, before the Chibok girls’ release, UNFPA had been doing some works in the northeast, and continues to do it. The rehabilitation of other girls and women, who went through similar trauma and were released, we believe they should receive equal treatment in terms of having different sources of rehabilitation, including psychosocial, medical, physical and livelihood supports. We do have programmes in the northeast that provide these services for those who were released and were not in Chibok.

How worried is the UNFPA about the use of these girls as suicide bombers?
The situation in the northeast is pathetic, because we have seen some children being used as suicide bombers, not necessarily those kidnapped and released. That is why the situation in the northeast still remains volatile. It doesn’t necessarily involve those who have been kidnapped and released. So, it is a concern to us because it is a security issue.

Are we expecting the usual family planning support offered by UNFPA for people of the northeast, despite challenges posed by suspension of funding by the US government?
As you are aware, US government defunded UNFPA early this year, which means that UNFPA will not be receiving any funding from the US government. This basically is based on false information that UNFPA does not support, fund, provide or has never supported abortion anywhere, either in Nigeria or any other country. We are hopeful that US government will realise this and reconsider that type of decision. Certainly, it is going to affect, and it is affecting the way we scale up activities, either in Nigeria or any other country.

Population of people in the northeast has been reduced as a result of terrorists’ activities. Do you still apply the same model of family planning in other region of the country as in the northeast?
Yes. UNFPA supports voluntary family planning, we do not limit. You can have 10 or 20 children, if you want. That means you decide the number of children you want and when you want them; that is what family planning is. So, the same method is applied in the south, north, east and west.



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