Nigerian Girls Who Escaped Boko Haram Speak Out
Long before #BringBackOurGirls, women and girls were being abducted from predominately Christian areas of the country. We just didn’t know about it. But all of that changed on April 14, 2014 when 276 girls from a school in the rural town of Chibok, Nigeria were taken by the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram.
The news went international because it was the largest number of abductions in a single attack. But it certainly wasn’t the first.
Human Rights Watch estimates that since May of 2013 there have been more than 4,000 civilians killed in over 192 attacks by the Boko Haram. More than 2000 of these victims were killed within the first half of this year.
In an effort to understand the Boko Haram’s tactics and the abuses the women who are still in captivity are facing, Human Rights Watch interviewed 30 women who were abducted and managed to escape or were released between April 2013 and April 2014.
The women said that they were abducted from their homes, schools, villages while working on the farm or fetching water. And were taken to one of eight Boko Haram camps believed to be it the Sambisa Forest Reserve, on the border between Nigeria and Cameroon.
The interviewees, former captives, said that the women in the camps ranged from infancy to 65-years-old but they couldn’t tell which women were wives, daughters and family members of the Boko Haram insurgents and which ones had been abducted.
The women said that refusing to renounce their religion and convert to Islam, resulted in physical or psychological abuse, forced labor, forced participation in military operations, forced marriage, sexual abuse and rape.
Many were threatened with death if they chose not to convert.
“One young woman held in a camp near Gwoza described how combatants placed a noose around her neck and threatened her with death until she renounced her religion; others were repeatedly threatened with whipping, beating, or death unless they converted to Islam, stopped attending school, and complied with Islamic dressing rules, such as wearing veils or the hijab.”
Others were made to cook, clean and perform other chores.
One of the abductees complained to a Boko Haram soldier that she was too young to be married. He responded by pointing to his 5-year-old daughter and saying, “If she got married last year,and is just waiting till puberty for its consummation, how can you at your age be too young to marry?”
While some of the women interviewed said that some of the Boko Haram soldiers made an effort to protect them from sexual violence, of the women interviewed, eight spoke of cases of rape, many of which had occurred after the women were forced to marry.
Human Rights Watch say the rape that occurs within these camps and the abductions themselves go largely unreported “because of a culture of silence, stigma, and shame around sexual abuse in Nigeria’s conservative North.”
But even before the abductions happened, many of the victims and those who witnessed abductions said that there was a lack of effective security which allowed the abductions to happen in the first place. They recounted stories of when the military had been overwhelmed by the Boko Haram because insufficient troops, or they ran out of ammunition during an attack. Others said authorities and the government didn’t take warnings of an attack seriously.
Though they’ve escaped the Boko Haram camps, many of the victims and their families fear re-abduction. They deal with sleeplessness, frustration from inadequate government response and guilt for having renounced Christianity in an attempt to survive. Of the women and girls interviewed, only the students from the Chibok school have received limited counseling and medical care. The other victims, all from poor families, were not even aware the government was offering mental or medical health care.
Human Rights Watch has detailed a list of things the Nigerian government, community members and the international community can do to decrease the number of these abductions and attacks, which you can read here.
Also, there’s video of many of the girls speaking about their experiences being abducted, how they managed to escape and the lingering effects in the video below.