17-year old Aisha* was abducted in the middle of the day when shopping with her mother. “They held a gun to my mother’s head and forced me to go with them,” she explains. She was forcefully married and spent more than two years in Boko Haram captivity.
Aisha* is one of the many women and girls at the centre who were abducted, forcibly married to their captors and became pregnant as a result of rape.
“I was asked to help with cooking and cleaning, fetching water and running errands,” says 15-year old Yusuf* describing his time in Boko Haram captivity. The abducted children are often given domestic tasks. Some are forced into more active roles in transport. Others are tasked to guard other abductees and severely intimidated if someone flees on their watch.
The children, like Yusuf*, often bear their horrors in silence and endure isolation as they fear they might be outed and alienated.
Helping children return to normal life after their horrific experiences is a complex and long process. It starts with addressing their direct and acute physical, mental and emotional needs.
“Here we have water to bathe in, a bed to sleep in, and food to eat,” says 14-year old Hamimat*describing the centre.
The transit centre is the temporary home for hundreds of children and women, the survivors of the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria. They were abducted and held in captivity by insurgents for years, and then rescued and kept in administrative custody by the Nigerian military. These women and children were released to the transit centre after been cleared of having ties with Boko Haram. The transit centre is where their long road to recovery begins.
“Every child is unique and requires different types and levels of support, so there is no standard formula for these children to recover,” says the Director of the centre.
The women and children receive counselling and medical treatment. Social workers are helping to trace parents or guardians, so that they can reunite children who have been separated from their families for two to three years.
At the centre, women and girls are also provided with skills’ acquisition and engaged in positive activities to prepare them for their return to the community.
Children have an opportunity to start playing again.
UNICEF is working closely with the Borno State Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development and other partners to support the children in their recovery and return to their communities.
Despite the current crisis, the protection sector remains chronically and critically underfunded. More funding is needed to provide mental health and social support, reunite families and offer education, safe water and medical services.
*Children’s names have been changed to protect their identities.