Since the release of the first set of 24 Chibok girls from the den of Boko Haram terrorists, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has been providing different forms of support to them.
In this interview with journalists in Abuja, the Deputy Representative of the UNFPA in Nigeria, Eugene Kongnyuy, spoke extensively on the efforts to assist both the first 24 and the recent 82 Chibok girls reintegrate fully into the society. HASSAN ZAGGI was there. Excerpts:
How will UNFPA help the Chibok girls who regained their freedom reintegrate into the society?
As you are aware, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) support is for the 24 Chibok girls that were released, 21 plus three, and now 82 girls have also been released. They are under the safekeeping of the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs. We received a request from the Ministry on certain specific areas that UNFPA has comparative advantage. These include physical rehabilitation, medical rehabilitation, psychosocial rehabilitation as well as livelihood support.
Basically, the physical rehabilitation is to provide the girls with their personal effects needs which include culturally appropriate dressing and other clothing materials.
In terms of medical support, some of the girls had series of medical treatment where they went through medical screening and diagnosis, and they were all treated.
In terms of psychosocial support, they had serious psychosocial trauma as such they all needed counseling. They have lost basically their childhood, missed three years of adolescent hood and gone through violence including sexual, physical and emotional. They needed psychosocial rehabilitation.
In terms of nutrition, many of them were malnourished; they needed some balanced diet to get them back to normalcy. They also needed a shelter where they can stay and be looked after. Government is providing that. UNFPA is also providing livelihood support through the government. The girls were asked whether they wanted to go back to school or they wanted to follow a vocational training track. They divided themselves into two groups. Those who decided to pursue formal education, teachers were recruited to actually fast-track their preparation for Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) because they were kidnapped as they were about to write their SSCE so that they can proceed to university.
Those who wanted vocational training, many of them chose to be trained as psychotherapists, some of them are undertaking ICT training.
So, these are the different forms of trainings they are offered so that they can prepare for their future in establishing small businesses or get job when they get themselves integrated back into their communities.
Have UNFPA had access to the 82 that were recently released?
I had a bilateral meeting with the Minister of Women Affairs, recently and the girls were still undergoing medical assessment at that point in time.
We, in the UNFPA, have not been able to see them because they said the girls were undergoing medical assessment because they had similar medical cases as with 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.
Do you have any fear over the reintegration of these girls into the society, bearing in mind the issue of stigmatisation?
There are concerns about their reintegration because it raises stigma within their community. When some of the girls who have children were asked whether they will go back to Chibok, they said even if they are going, they will not take their children along. Probably the reason is they feel that they will not be accepted if they go with children. So, they feel stigmatized.
UNFPA provides three-pronged approach support. Survival based approach which we are doing, ensuring the survivors of this type of violence receive the necessary rehabilitation.
But, we are also keen to ensure there is a human right based approach to it, that the human rights principles are respected as this is happening. The last approach is community-based approach, which is ensuring the community accepts them for their easy integrations, and that they can be reintegrated back into the community.
This may take a bit longer, but the immediate support is on-going. We need a long term strategy, how to work with traditional and religious leaders, together, with families and the entire community to accept them when they get back to their original towns and villages.
Did UNFPA notice any form of drug addiction in the girls as it is being alleged?
For now, I haven’t heard any such information on any drug abuse among the girls. I haven’t heard that.
Apart from the Chibok girls, there are many other girls and women who have undergone the same abduction and similar inhuman treatments. Is UNFPA extending its services to some of these victims?
In fact, before the release of the Chibok girls, UNFPA had been doing some humanitarian works in the northeast, and continues to do the work. The rehabilitation of other girls and women who went through similar trauma and were released, we believe that these girls 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. After all we are a United Nations Agency.
How worried is the UNFPA about the use of these girls as suicide bombers?
We condemn such inhuman act. The situation 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, but we have seen cases where children and even women who are being used as suicide bombers. So, it is a concern to us because it is a security issue.
Will the suspension of funding to the UNFPA by the US government affect family planning support in Nigeria?
As you are aware, US government defunded UNFPA early this year. That means that UNFPA will not be receiving any funding from the US government.
This basically is based on false information linking UNFPA to abortion. UNFPA does not support, fund, provide or has never supported abortion anywhere, either in Nigeria nor any other country.
We are hopeful that US government will realize 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 in any other country.
Do you still advocate for family planning in the northeast despite the reduction in its population due to the insurgency?
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 model is applicable in south, north, east and west.