Foundation rescues 158 children
As ActionAid, EU and FG intervene
By Gabriel Ewepu
It is strange to know that there is still in existence of cultural beliefs that do not place value for human life, especially newborns as they are being killed when they breach the culture do to primitive reasons.
This is the true story of 67 communities in five Area Councils of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.
Some of the communities include Owanbi and Chakumi in Gwalgwalada Area Council; Makana and Dudu in Abuja Municipal Area Council, AMAC; Gulida and Zuhi in Abaji Area Council; Kehi in Kuje Area Council, and others.
These are some of the communities which are deep into the killing of children who twin, triplet, albinos, deformed, grew the upper teeth first, and children whose mothers died during delivery.
A non-profit making organization that is also into missionary activities in Abuja, Vine Heritage Home Foundation, VHHF, came to the rescue of these children from the merciless hands of their family and community members who were at the verge of killing them. The home has 27 staff catering for the rescued children.
According to Head of Operation, VHHF, Pastor Stephen Olusola, the Foundation has the responsibility to rescue children from about 65 communities from the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and they started their missionary work in the late 90s, which they discovered that there are group of people in the FCT, which are the Bassa-Komo tribe, where the lives of children are still in danger due to cultural beliefs.
He further explained that five cultural practices were discovered as missionaries among the people, which include multiple births not acceptable, children who lost their mothers during birth are believed to be witches and wizards, children born as albino are not allowed to live, children who grew the upper teeth first are meant to be evil, children who are born with deformities are also believed to have demonic manipulation on them and so they don’t allow them to live. He said today the practice covers five Area Councils of FCT out of six.
“We go inside to pick up the children as we go inside to plead with them and pick up the children, and as of today that has been reduced to some extent that we don’t run around again.
“On their own, after the government intervened to know whether the story is true and after their investigation in 2012 they discovered it was true, if not they would have closed down the home and prosecute us. They started their intervention by reaching out to the people.
“We have our youngest baby in the house today, baby girl and her name is Jennifer, and she should be about seven days old today. She lost the mother, another baby was the youngest who is just three months old, he lost the mother too because in those communities maternal mortality rate is very high.
“As at today, we have a total of 158 children in the home. They are in various categories from ages one-three and above. It’s been worthwhile working with ActionAid Nigeria, and they have improved our operation. The first baby was rescued and picked up in Kehi, Kuje Area Council that was to be killed was in 1996.”
After this first rescue, the Foundation did not know that there was widespread of the barbaric practice until 2004, which another child was rescued in 2004, and that was like opening the lid. He further stated that in 2004 alone five children were rescued from the teeth of death.
He said: “Nursing mother has just passed away who had a baby we picked in 2004 who now is in Senior Secondary School (SSS III) who was already strapped to the dead body of her mother in a village under Abaji Area Council.
“It was even an Imam that called our attention to it. He approached us and said, “can we join hands to meet the chief of the community and plead with him to release that baby so that they don’t kill the baby?” They wanted to bury the baby alive together with her dead mother.
“We had the opportunity to rescue five children. Out of the five that came in 2004 three survived because then we were still actually trying to find out what killed the rest two babies because we don’t know the poisoning effect the local people gave to them. It was when we took them to the hospital we knew.
“From that 2004 to date children have been coming even from other places we don’t know were part of the killing of the children. There are 67 communities practising killing of these set of children, and I can only mention few because they are too many. We have Owanbi, Chakumi in Gwalgwalada Area Council; Makana, Dudu in Abuja Municipal Area Council, AMAC; Gulida, Zuhi in Abaji Area Council; and Kehi in Kuje Area Council.”
He also explained that “Our aim is not to keep our children forever. Once the communities are transformed and are ready to change their mind like our first child has been reunited with her family which is behind us over the river there. She has gone back to her parents because they told me they want her to come back.
“That is part of our vision. The mentality of their view that something is wrong with the children and once that is eradicated from their mind the children can go back to their families.” So far four children have been reunited with their families.
The permanent site for the home is 10 plots of land that would have hostels, school, playground, offices, quarters, cafeteria, car park, and others. The site is located about three kilometres away from the Abuja-Lokoja Highway.
Challenges and interventions need
“From inception, it has not been a bed of roses knowing that receiving children who are very young by the time they came into the house. We have children coming in as early as three hours after birth. Raising children from that tender age takes a lot of materials in terms of everything they need; physical, psychological and emotional.
“For babies, we receive a lot of formulas for infants have to be used to keep them up because we don’t have surrogate mothers who can come into breastfeeding them for us. Even though we have been receiving support from a lot of Nigerians but when you look at the number of children in the home and challenges of the day they must go to school, feed, clothe and baby milk alone we use in the month is N360, 000.
“So far the support we have received I won’t say it enough because there are several areas we still need help. Like the facility, we now try to do because as new babies keep coming in we need to have bedding, and other things”, he stated.
Appeals to the government for the provision of health care facilities
“We have appealed to the government to provide maternal health care facility for the communities that is well equipped which can help them detect the number of babies conceived which the people can be enlightened and that would guide against poisoning the pregnant woman.
The government has done their bit and is still doing their part which they have provided health centres and looking at the number of health centres and the number of villages involved in the practice there is still much to be done. There is room for improvement and not just building and equipping but to make it work 24 hours and seven days in the week.
ActionAid and European Union Intervention
Speaking passionately about the intervention made to add value to the lives of the children and activities of the Foundation, the Country Director, ActionAid Nigeria, Ene Obi, said the organization will continue to support the Foundation and also continue its advocacy on the practice in FCT.
She said: “The whole issue is about child protection. We use a human rights approach, we work with the most vulnerable people including youth, women and in this case, are children; their right to life ought to be protected. We have the Child Rights Act which many states have domesticated but some have not domesticated and this is the core and is not just issue of vulnerability but the issue of culture needs to be brought on board.
“This is ActionAid’s’ contribution to child protection and we are working in a way that you have the right to life. It does not mean that you lose your mother that you are evil because the child has no idea. In Nigeria, we have more maternal mortality. Issue of maternal mortality is an issue in rural areas.
“Culture is dynamic. Some of the communities have stopped this practice already, and they are 11, but they are bringing themselves on board slowly. Culture is something that doesn’t just change overnight it overtime. It is for us to work with these communities to see how they can change their attitude. We have gone to a lot of communities and we will go more till the change happens and we know changes are happening
“The hope is that with time we can integrate these children back to their communities because they are blessings. Some of them are in school today and maybe if they were in their rural communities they might not have schools to go. When we first came here we thought we could build schools for them but the space is not big enough because if they grow bigger they need a field to play football and other sporting activities. The plan is ongoing including the hostels and other buildings.
“The project has started but not the buildings yet because we have to submit the building plan. Procurement is going through all the layers, and we have to do bids and the bids and plans are reviewed now so that it can kick-off, but they work with the community has started along. We are working together and there are Nigerians who are contributing to the centre and the Pastor does not know them and that is why we need to take care of our community and give life to them.”
She also disclosed that “The residents of FCT now know that these things are real and are donating and the local government chairmen have also committed themselves including the constituency members and we are happy. We started the partnership with the home this year. We are happy with the European Union that comes into a partnership with us and at least has given us more resources to do what we love to do and that is the protection of the child.
“This first project is three years and we are going to monitor it and we are not walking away because FCT is among the states we work in and we will see how far it goes
“That is the reason why they need a bigger place and now we have gotten a bigger land. In this project we have brought in the government; there are desk offices in the local government that are involved in the practice and they are excited about it.”