Con­flict-zone con­tra­cep­tion for the Boko Haram home­less

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MAID­UGURI, Nige­ria: Six­teen-year-old Aisha slips into the white fam­ily plan­ning tent at the Bakassi camp for dis­placed peo­ple in Maid­uguri, north­east Nige­ria, and whis­pers in case she is over­heard. The teenager, among the hun­dreds of thou­sands of Nige­ri­ans who have sought sanc­tu­ary from Boko Haram Is­lamists in the re­gion’s big­gest city, be­gan tak­ing a con­tra­cep­tive pill three months ago. De­spite her ten­der years, she has seen death and cru­elty up close, flee­ing into ex­ile through the hos­tile, arid bush.

But in the Bakassi camp, which is home to more than 21,000 peo­ple like her, she has to fight an­other type of at­tack. “I have never been with a man be­fore,” she said, low­er­ing her eyes. “But in the camp there are so many rapes, it hap­pens all the time. “One of my friends is preg­nant be­cause she was raped and I’m afraid it’s go­ing to hap­pen to me.” An­other woman tells how she heard a neigh­bor’s cries ring out across the camp one night in June. “Young boys came to her tent but no­body would come out to help her,” she said. “Peo­ple are scared, they think its Boko Haram. “There is too much trauma af­ter what we’ve been through.”

Sex­ual vi­o­lence

For the Hausa and Ka­nuri, the two main eth­nic groups in the re­gion, rape is taboo, said Alice Jan­vrin of the In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee (IRC), which runs the fam­ily plan­ning clinic. She said that very few women ad­mit it has hap­pened for fear of be­ing re­jected, but added: “Women and girls tell us that sex­ual vi­o­lence is per­va­sive... in and out of camps.” Many of those who turn up on their own at Bakassi have been sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies dur­ing at­tacks. The sit­u­a­tion is hardly any bet­ter for those who ar­rive with their hus­bands.

The Boko Haram in­sur­gency, which has killed at least 20,000 since 2009, has left more than 2.6 mil­lion peo­ple home­less and trig­gered a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in Nige­ria’s north­east. More than five mil­lion peo­ple are starv­ing as the fight­ing has dev­as­tated farm­land, leav­ing farm­ers un­able to sow or cul­ti­vate crops for sev­eral years. Jan­vrin, the IRC’s re­pro­duc­tive health man­ager, said in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple (IDPs) were also “ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble to sex­ual abuse”. “Many of them ex­change sex­ual ser­vices against food and there are much more STI (sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions), abor­tions or un­wanted preg­nan­cies,” she added.

Grow­ing de­mand

The IRC women’s cen­tre in Bakassi was opened in Septem­ber 2016 and in­cludes a ma­ter­nity unit and an ob­stet­rics ser­vice, which is al­ways packed. Dozens of women with swollen bel­lies wait pa­tiently on benches to be seen in the crush­ing heat of the mid­day sun. Ac­cord­ing to the IRC, more than 1,000 women have adopted some form of con­tra­cep­tion since Jan­uary. Sim­i­lar op­er­a­tions have been set up else­where in Borno State, where there are also size­able num­bers of dis­placed peo­ple.Op­tions in­clude oral con­tra­cep­tion, an im­plant un­der the skin or a hor­mone in­jec­tion which lasts up to three months. Fanne, a 20-year-old, said she had never heard of con­tra­cep­tion be­fore she ar­rived in Bakassi. She al­ready has two chil­dren and talks of “the stress of hav­ing chil­dren on and on” in an im­pov­er­ished re­gion which had poor ac­cess to health and education even be­fore the in­sur­gency.

“In the vil­lages, some women give birth ev­ery year,” Fanne said. “In the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, if I have more chil­dren, what will I give them to eat?”Talatu, who is in her 30s and has had five preg­nan­cies, said her hus­band had pro­hib­ited her from go­ing to the clinic. But she said she now felt re­lieved to be tak­ing the pill. “Now I have time for my­self. I needed to rest,” she said.

Con­trol over health

Rachel Sun­day Okoye, a mid­wife, says many women come to the cen­tre in se­cret, given the strong re­sis­tance to con­tra­cep­tion among men. “They feel like we don’t want their women to re­pro­duce. We try to make them un­der­stand that it’s not the case. It’s about plan­ning for the next preg­nancy,” she said.

Today, in­ter­na­tional ex­perts, pol­icy mak­ers and donors meet at a fam­ily plan­ning con­fer­ence in Lon­don to in­crease ef­forts for women to have ac­cess to con­tra­cep­tion-and more con­trol of their own fu­ture and health. Con­flict zones are seen as a pri­or­ity. In Bakassi, Aisha has just one thing on her mind: how to get back to stud­ies the con­flict forced her to aban­don, so she can train to be­come a doc­tor. “I have noth­ing to do here,” she said. “Ev­ery day I come to sit at the clinic and watch the doc­tors. I’m try­ing to learn.”—AFP

MAID­UGURI: A woman sits dur­ing a con­sul­ta­tion at the IRC (In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee) health clinic in Bakassi IDP (In­ter­nally Dis­placed Peo­ple) Camp in Maid­uguri in north-east Nige­ria.—AFP

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