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On the run from Boko Haram, Nigeria’s lost children hope to find families again

By Kieran Guilbert

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Running his fingers over the vast scars on his knee and thigh, 13-year-old Usman recalled the second he thought he would die.

The boy was fleeing a Boko Haram assault on his village in northeast Nigeria together with his mom final yr when two militants knocked him to the floor, and approached him wielding knives.

“I was scared that I would die … that I would never see my mother again,” stated Usman, explaining how he limped to a close-by camp for the displaced in Bama city in Borno state, the coronary heart of the jihadists’ brutal seven-year bid to create an Islamic state.

For two months, Usman heard nothing about his mom till two assist staff introduced excellent news. They had tracked her down to her brother’s home in the close by metropolis of Maiduguri.

“We cried when we saw each other, there was so much joy,” he advised the Thomson Reuters Foundation, sitting subsequent to his beaming mom, Biba, in the cramped, dusty yard of his uncle’s residence.

More than 30,000 children like Usman have lost or been separated from their mother and father throughout an insurgency which has left almost two million individuals uprooted after fleeing Boko Haram.

While two-thirds of those children are being cared for by a relative, the the rest – round 10,000 – are pressured to fend for themselves, in accordance to the U.N. children’s company (UNICEF).

With lots of them counting on the assist of native communities or displaced families to survive, help staff are striving to reunite these solitary children with their mother and father.

But tracing and monitoring down relations can take a number of months – leaving them prey to youngster marriage, sexual abuse and compelled labour in the meantime, assist businesses say.

“Children may even resort to begging, hawking and transactional sex to survive,” stated Rachel Harvey, chief of kid safety for UNICEF.


When children arrive in a camp or group with out their mother and father, or alone, they’re shortly referred to native help teams which perform household tracing and reunification programmes.

Aid staff and volunteers take down as many particulars as attainable from the children and share the info with their colleagues throughout northeast Nigeria, who go from camp to camp, group to group, studying out names and following leads.

But with three-quarters of the 1.eight million individuals displaced by Boko Haram dwelling in communities throughout six states, fairly than in camps, the work might be arduous and time-consuming, stated Myriem El Khatib of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

“It is much easier to trace relatives living in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps as people tend to gather together based on the village they fled from,” stated El Khatib, co-ordinator of the ICRC’s Restoring Family Links programme.

“Outside of the camps, the displacement pattern is more random, and there are many areas which we still cannot access due to the insurgency. The average process takes many months.”

Even when mother and father or kin are tracked down and informed about their children, reuniting them just isn’t all the time easy.

The makeshift foster families and caregivers who take care of unaccompanied children might refuse to allow them to go, in accordance to the Centre for Community Health and Development (CHAD).

Some individuals ship the children to work or try to marry them off for cash, whereas others hope having one other youngster underneath their care will end in extra humanitarian help, stated Shadrach Adawara, household tracing and reunification officer for CHAD.

“In one case, an uncle refused to release his brother’s children, because he wanted to marry the eldest daughter off.”

“Thankfully, a call between them resolved the issue, and the children returned to their father,” stated Adawara, including that assist staff recurrently check out reunited children, and refer them to providers from healthcare to psychosocial help.


In some instances, children might determine not to return to their mother and father or relations, a number of tracing officers stated.

They might have suffered abuse or had been pressured to work by their mother and father, or determine to spare their struggling families the added burden.

When 17-year-old Fatima, a former Boko Haram captive who escaped after two years whereas closely pregnant, was reunited together with her mom, they might not cease crying and hugging – having presumed every lifeless for therefore lengthy.

But Fatima quickly realised she and her child couldn’t keep together with her mom and youthful siblings in her hometown of Monguno.

“I saw the poverty, and many responsibilities of my mother … and decided it would be better for me and my baby boy to live with my older brother in this (Bakassi) IDP camp,” Fatima stated, cradling and rocking her two-year-old to sleep.

While Fatima is relieved to be together with her brother, she is one among the fortunate few. Only some 400 children – out of 32,000 dwelling alone or and not using a dad or mum – have been reunited with their families to date, in accordance to figures from UNICEF.

“It can be very frustrating because it can take so long,” stated El Khatib of the ICRC. “But it is worth it when you see the emotion from the families … whether it is tears of happiness or just a pat on the arm and saying: ‘Nice to have you home’.”

Back at her brother’s home in Maiduguri, Biba fusses over 13-year-old Usman – a lot to his embarrassment – as she recollects the day they have been reunited after two lengthy months.

“I could not stop smiling,” she stated. “Everybody in the neighbourhood saw my face, and knew he was finally back.”

(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit score the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian information, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, local weather change and resilience. Visit

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