Nearly one in two adolescent girls across the Lake Chad Basin region feeling “unsafe” in their environment in the wake of the crisis, many have been forced into “survival sex”, a survey has found.
The report “Adolescent Girls in Crisis: Voices from the Lake Chad Basin,” which surveyed girls in Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger, found adolescent girls and community members outlined “adolescent girls engaging in relationships and swapping sex for food, money and other items.”
Advancement and Protection Alternative says it is the first time a survey has studied “survival sex in its own right.”
The report also found some proportion of girls in the region feel “very” and “extremely unsafe”.
The survey by the international charity, Plan International, studied how the crisis has affected adolescent girls aged 10 to 19 in particular, for the first time distinguishing them from women or children.
“In humanitarian response, we rarely speak of adolescent girls—adolescent girls are either girls or women,” said Fabian Bockler, a regional programme coordinator for Lake Chad at Plan.
“There are issues specific to them and we need to develop programmes to address that age group.”
The report was launched before humanitarian actors and donor agencies in Abuja.
Girls displaced from their homes and those living with family in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroun—which make up the Lake Chad Basin—took part in the survey.
Some of the fear the girls sited in the study come from harassment by adolescent boys and young men. Eight in 10 girls reported receiving “unwanted touching or kissing”. In more than 80% of the cases, the perpetrator was an adolescent boy.
Half of all the reported harassment occurred “outside on a road” and a quarter of them at school, the survey found.
The report says the finding shows there are few areas untouched by violence and abuse for adolescent girls.
It found child, early and forced marriage has increased across the region in the wake of the crisis. Nearly one-third of girls aged over 15 in Niger and Cameroon married, the survey found, and had less role in decisions that concern them than girls in Nigeria.
“It is important that we listen to children and what they say. When we are adults we think like adults,” said Ben Foot, director of Save the Children Nigeria.
“The understanding that children do know what they want and what they need is my message.”
The perception of insecurity across the region has compelled girls to limit their mobility in public, hampered their access to school and health care and impacted their reach to food security and nutrition.
“All these issues have been there; the insurgency just amplified it,” said Joy Michael of the United Nations Population Fund at the launch of the report in Abuja.
“We know it is there but without evidence you can’t address policy makers.
“A lot of times we do programmes for women and saw we are doing it for girls. But the report shows the categorization is different and their needs are different.”
The study highlights a “strong element of resilience amidst vulnerability,” said Hussaini Abdu, country director for Plan International Nigeria.
“Depsite their challenges, they are striving to ensure their situation does not suppress them and deny them what they are aiming for in life,” he said of the report.
“The other dimension is that most times we associate abuse and vilence to activities of Boko Haram, kidnapping and rape. But this survey is also telling us that in addition to those things, some of these abuses can also be domestic, at home, on their way to school, on their way to get water, from family, neighbours. We need to respond to it.”
He said response must take in immediate and future needs of girls affected.
“The social, economic condition of these girls is not a creation by this crisis necessarily. What the crisis has done is compound it. If we are to respond, we must respond to their immediate need and the underlying factors,” said Abdu.
“If we don’t respond to the underlying factors, even if the crisis ends today, this situation these girls go through may continue.”