Girls who escaped Boko Haram tell of horrors (2022)

Women and girls kidnapped by the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram are raped and forced to marry fighters even if they are underage, according to testimonies from women who have escaped the group.

In its latest report, “Those Terrible Weeks in the Camp: Boko Haram Violence Against Women and Girls in Northeast Nigeria,” New York-based Human Rights Watch estimates that the militant group has abducted about 500 women and girls from Northern Nigeria since 2009. Earlier this year Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from a secondary school in the town of Chibok in the northeast of the country. The mass abduction drew international outrage and sparked a viral social media campaign fuelled by the hashtag #bringbackourgirls. Human Rights Watch spoke to 12 of the 57 of the girls who have escaped; 219 are still missing.

Human Rights Watch explains that Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has taken responsibility for abducting women and girls, and has justified the kidnappings as retaliation for the detention of Boko Haram family members held by the Nigerian government. In a 2012 video, Shekau says: “Since you are now holding our women, just wait and see what will happen to your own women … to your own wives according to Sharia law.”

(Video) These girls escaped Boko Haram. Now they’re pleading for help to save their generation

But there’s also another motive for the kidnappings: punishing women who seek education. One victim who was kidnapped while traveling home from school in Konduga said that when the militants found out that she and her friends were students they said, “Aha! These are the people we are looking for. So you are the ones with strong heads who insist on attending school when we have said ‘boko’ is ‘haram.’ We will kill you here today.” Boko Haram’s name roughly translates to “Western education is a sin.”

The report confirms some of the worst fears about Boko Haram’s treatment of the girls they capture, specifically when it comes to sexual violence. According to interviews with survivors, most of the sexual violence and rape occurs within the context of forced marriages, although there are exceptions.

According to the interviews in the report, Boko Haram does not consider any girls too young for marriage. After one 17-year old prisoner complained that she was not yet old enough to marry a Boko Haram commander pointed to his 5-year-old daughter and said, “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?”

One woman who was raped in 2013 in a Boko Haram camp told Human Rights Watch that other women (specifically wives of Boko Haram leaders) were often complicit in sexual abuse of female prisoners. “I was lying down in the cave pretending to be ill because I did not want the marriage,” the woman told the researchers. “When the insurgent who had paid my dowry came in to force himself on me, the commander’s wife blocked the cave entrance and watched as the man raped me.”

Another girl was only 15 when she was forcibly married off to a Boko Haram commander after her abduction in 2013. “After we were declared married I was ordered to live in his cave but I always managed to avoid him,” the girl told Human Rights Watch. “He soon began to threaten me with a knife to have sex with him, and when I still refused he brought out his gun, warning that he would kill me if I shouted. Then he began to rape me every night. He was a huge man in his mid-30s and I had never had sex before. It was very painful and I cried bitterly because I was bleeding afterwards.”

(Video) Women Held Captive by Boko Haram Share Their Stories of Survival: Part 1

The report cites numerous other reports of women being sexually assaulted by Boko Haram militants; some were raped within context of a forced marriage, others for being Christian, another was attacked for a perceived slight against the militants. The report acknowledges, however, that the group’s leaders did make some effort to protect kidnapped girls from random sexual abuses outside the context of “marriage.”

Human Rights Watch notes that rapes by Boko Haram are severely under-reported, largely due to the stigma around sexual abuse and the loss of virginity that sometimes occurs during the rapes in the conservative northeastern part of the country.

The report also delves into some of the specifics of the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls, thanks to testimony from 12 girls who escaped. The escaped girls said that Boko Haram did not discriminate based on religion when they abducted the schoolgirls, and took both Christian and Muslim girls. They said that they believe the militants were originally after the school’s brick-making machine, and only decided to kidnap the girls once they realized they were unguarded — the principal, teachers, administrators were not on campus, and the only guard, an elderly man, had fled. One girl described the night Boko Haram arrived: “Two men told us we should not worry, we should not run. They said they had come to save us from what is happening inside the town, that they are policemen. We did not know that they were from Boko Haram. The rest of the men came and started shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and at that moment we realized, they were Boko Haram. We were told to be quiet. One of them told us that the horrible things we heard happening elsewhere, like burning houses, killing people, killing students, kidnapping people, would happen to us now. We all started crying and he told us to shut up.”

Another woman at the camps told Human Rights Watch she saw some of the Chibok schoolgirls forced to work for other women who were selected for “special treatment because of their beauty.”

The report also specifies that of all the girls who have escaped from Boko Haram interviewed by Human Rights Watch, only the Chibok schoolgirls have received any kind of state-sponsored medical aid or counseling. But one Chibok schoolgirl says the aid they received was more like a religious sermon, which is not what she needs.

(Video) Boko Haram: How 3 Chibok girls escaped to safety in Nigeria

“I just want someone who will listen to me and help me to stop the fear that takes over my mind when I think of my sisters (school mates) who are still with Boko Haram,” the girl told Human Rights Watch. “I am so afraid for them. Why can’t the government bring them back?”

[Human Rights Watch]

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Write to Charlotte Alter at charlotte.alter@time.com.

FAQs

What happened to the girls taken by Boko Haram? ›

One of the Nigerian schoolgirls seized by Islamist militants Boko Haram from the town of Chibok in 2014 has been freed and reunited with her family. Ruth Ngladar Pogu and a man she is said to have married in captivity recently surrendered to the Nigerian military, according to officials. The couple have two children.

How many girls are still missing from Boko Haram? ›

Out of the 276 girls abducted in 2014, 57 have been able to escape and 80 have been freed in exchange for Boko Haram leaders. But according to the authorities, 100 are still gone missing. In captivity, many of these women were forced to convert to Islam and marry members of the jihadist group.

How many Chibok girls have returned? ›

Between 2016 and 2018, three Chibok girls were found or rescued in the Sambisa forest hideout of Boko Haram by the Nigerian military, while 103 were freed following negotiations between the Nigerian government and the militants. Their return home was followed by global fanfare.

Were the Chibok girls ever found? ›

The two women were found on Monday during military operations against extremists in north-eastern Nigeria. In total, 276 girls seized were from their school dormitory in the middle of the night on 14 April 2014.

Why did Boko Haram kidnap girls? ›

Boko Haram and its affiliates now see the act of kidnapping schoolchildren as an effective way to raise money for their broad operations across northern Nigeria, due to gains in widespread media coverage and the way it puts federal and state governments under pressure to secure the release of the victims at any cost.

What was bring back our girls? ›

In the spring of 2014, millions of Twitter users, including some of the world's most famous people, unwittingly helped turn a group of 276 schoolgirls abducted by a little-known Islamist sect into a central prize in the global War on Terror by retweeting a call for their release: #BringBackOurGirls.

Why do kids get kidnapped? ›

Some of the reasons why a stranger might kidnap an unknown child include: extortion to elicit a ransom from the parents for the child's return. illegal adoption, a stranger steals a child with the intent to rear the child as their own or to sell to a prospective adoptive parent.

How many kids Boko Haram kidnapped? ›

Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping
Part of the Boko Haram insurgency
Parents whose daughters were kidnapped
Outcome276 female students abducted
MissingOver 100 as of 14 April 2021
SuspectsBoko Haram
3 more rows

How many Chibok girls are still in captivity? ›

“Out of the 276 abducted Chibok girls, 57 girls escaped in 2014 while 107 girls were released in 2018. "Three girls were recovered in 2019, two in 2021 and 9 were rescued in 2022, bringing the total of 178 girls out of captivity and 98 remaining in Boko Haram captivity,” he said.

What is the meaning of Chibok? ›

Chibok is a Local Government Area

Local Government Area
Nigeria has 774 local government areas (LGAs), each administered by a local government council consisting of a chairman, who is the chief executive, and other elected members, who are referred to as councillors.
https://en.wikipedia.org › Local_government_areas_of_Nigeria
of Borno State, Nigeria, located in the south of the state. Its headquarters are in the town of Chibok. It has an area of 1,350 km² and a population of 66,105 at the 2006 census. The town of Chibok is primarily a Christian village with a Muslim minority.

Who named Nigeria? ›

Like so many modern African states, Nigeria is the creation of European imperialism. Its very name – after the great Niger River, the country's dominating physical feature – was suggested in the 1890s by British journalist Flora Shaw, who later became the wife of colonial governor Frederick Lugard.

What is the meaning of Boko Haram in English? ›

It is popularly known in Nigerian and Western media as “Boko Haram,” which means “Western education is forbidden” (the word boko is a holdover from the colonial English word for book).

Who kidnapped the Chibok girls? ›

More than 100 schoolgirls are still missing since their April 2014 abduction in northeastern Nigeria by Boko Haram. Nigerian soldiers have found one of the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram operatives eight years ago in the conflict-torn northeast, the military has said.

How was Boko Haram formed? ›

Boko Haram formed in 2002 when Mohammed Yusuf, a well-known preacher and proselytizer of the Izala sect of Islam in the Maiduguri region of Nigeria, began to radicalize his discourse to reject all secular aspects of Nigerian society.

Where is Boko Haram located? ›

Boko Haram operates out of Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno state in northeast Nigeria bordered by Chad, Cameroon, and Niger. The group's membership is elusive. Some describe the ``core Boko Haram'' as the immediate followers of the late sect leader Mohammed Yusuf.

What happened to the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls 2017? ›

About 270 girls were originally abducted by the Islamist group but 82 were freed in 2017 after mediation, adding to 24 who were released or found. A few others have escaped or been rescued, but about 113 of the girls are believed to be held still by the militant group.

Who is Boko Haram and what do they want? ›

Boko Haram is an Islamic sect that believes northern politics has been seized by a group of corrupt, false Muslims. It wants to wage a war against them, and the Federal Republic of Nigeria generally, to create a “pure” Islamic state ruled by sharia law.

How many people has Boko Haram killed? ›

More than 35,000 people have been killed in northern Nigeria since 2009 when Boko Haram launched its insurgency aimed at overthrowing Nigeria's secular government and establishing an Islamic state.

When did Boko Haram kidnap the schoolgirls? ›

In April 2014, members of the armed group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 seniors at the Chibok Government Secondary School for Girls in northeast Nigeria.

Who is the author of Save Our Girls? ›

Bring Back Our Girls: The Untold Story of the Global Search for Nigeria's Missing Schoolgirls

How many kids go missing a day? ›

It is estimated that 2,300 children are missing every day in the United States . Children can become missing for many reasons.

How do kidnappers choose their targets? ›

The first step is target selection; criminals typically select individuals who are vulnerable and unaware of their surroundings. These victims unknowingly display non-verbal cues and behavioral signals labeling themselves as oblivious to their surroundings.

Can adults get kidnapped? ›

Victims of kidnapping can be any age, including adults. For example, parents have kidnapped children during custody fights. A spouse might kidnap a partner during a domestic violence incident. Kidnappers can also be strangers.

Why do they kidnap in Nigeria? ›

The motivation may be economic, political, or ideological. There are different patterns of kidnapping, among them kidnap for ransom, kidnap for ritual, kidnap for strategic bargain, and child abduction. In Nigeria, the main form has been kidnap for ransom.

Who stole kids in Africa? ›

The worst Joseph Kony is the self-appointed 'messiah' of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA

LRA
August 2022) The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), also known as the Lord's Resistance Movement, is a rebel group and heterodox Christian group which operates in northern Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Lord's_Resistance_Army
) and oversees the rebel group responsible for Africa's longest running armed conflict. He has kidnapped over 30,000 children to strengthen his army, forcing the boys to become soldiers and the girls to become sex slaves.

How did kidnapping start in Nigeria? ›

The current wave of kidnapping in Nigeria started on 25th February 2006 by the abduction of expatriates working for the oil companies in the Niger Delta area. Kidnapping displayed as an open message to the world for many years of injustice, marginalization, alienated, and underdevelopment of the area (Akpan, 2010) .

Who is Leah Sharibu? ›

Sharibu was among the 110 students abducted by the Boko Haram terrorists at the Government Girls' Science Technical College, Dapchi, on February 19, 2018, when she was only 14 years old.

Is Chibok a tribe? ›

The Kibaku people have been called one of the bravest tribes in Africa. They are currently located in Chibok Local Government which is the eastern Borno State in Nigeria. They are one of the last tribes in Nigeria to be subdued by the British Colonialists.

Is Chibok a language? ›

The Kibaku (Chibok) language is one of the endangered Nigerian languages spoken in Borno state. The 2006 census puts the population of Kibaku (Chibok) at about sixty six thousand one hundred and five (66,105).

Who is the first millionaire in Nigeria? ›

Candido Joao Da Rocha ( 1860 – March 11, 1959) was a Nigerian businessman, landowner and creditor who owned Water House on Kakawa Street, Lagos Island, Lagos, and was the proprietor of the now defunct Bonanza Hotel in Lagos. He held the chieftaincy title of the Lodifi of Ilesa.

Is Nigeria still the giant of Africa? ›

Nigeria has been dubbed “Africa's Giant” due to its population of almost 200 million people. Nigeria is Africa's most populated country. It is also the world's most populated black country, placing eighth among the world's most populous countries.

Who is the first woman to buy a car in Nigeria? ›

Madam Efunroye Tinubu was the first Nigerian woman to buy a car; she was also the first Iyalode of the Egba clan. She was born around 1805 in Abeokuta

Abeokuta
Abeokuta is the state capital of Ogun State in southwest Nigeria. It is situated on the east bank of the Ogun River, near a group of rocky outcrops in a wooded savanna; 77 kilometres (48 mi) north of Lagos by railway, or 130 kilometres (81 mi) by water.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Abeokuta
, Nigeria and was once a slave trader who traded with Europeans.

What language do Boko Haram speak? ›

The group's name means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language spoken across northern Nigeria.

Is Boko slang for nose? ›

Boko definition

(dated, West Midlands) The nose.

Who created Boko Haram in Nigeria? ›

Mohammed Yusuf founded the sect that became known as Boko Haram in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of the north-eastern state of Borno. He established a religious complex and school that attracted poor Muslim families from across Nigeria and neighbouring countries.

Which year and month was Chibok girls kidnapped? ›

The two women each carried babies on their laps as they were presented by the military, after captivity with militants who stormed their school in April, 2014 in northeast Nigeria in a mass kidnapping that sparked international outrage.

Where is the Sambisa forest? ›

The Sambisa Forest is a forest in Borno State, northeast Nigeria. It is in the southwestern part of Chad Basin National Park, about 60km southeast of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. It has an area of 518 km².

What does terrorism mean to you? ›

Terrorism is the use of force or violence against persons or property in violation of the criminal laws of the United States for purposes of intimidation, coercion, or ransom. Terrorists often use threats to: • Create fear among the public.

Is Boko Haram Sunni? ›

Boko Haram emerged in the early 2000s as a Salafist Sunni Muslim reform movement based in Borno State, northeast Nigeria—an area long afflicted by poverty and inequality, corrupt and contentious politics, and fierce debate over the proper role of Islam in governance and society.

How does terrorism affect Nigeria? ›

The effect of terrorist activities such as suicide bombings, kidnappings, destruction of lives, public infrastructure, private and entrepreneurial investments, the climate of fear, panic and confusion and a heated and ungovernable polity has continued to make Nigeria an unsuitable bride for foreign investments.

Is there Boko Haram in Abuja? ›

Security expert and lawyer, Bulama Bukarti, on Friday said terrorist group Boko Haram has established a presence close to Abuja, the nation's capital.

What countries do Boko Haram operate in? ›

Boko Haram has conducted operations and several attacks in the areas of Cameroon, Chad and the Niger that border northern Nigeria.

When was Boko Haram formed? ›

What happened to the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls 2017? ›

About 270 girls were originally abducted by the Islamist group but 82 were freed in 2017 after mediation, adding to 24 who were released or found. A few others have escaped or been rescued, but about 113 of the girls are believed to be held still by the militant group.

Which year did Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls? ›

April 2014. On the night of 14–15 April 2014, 276 mostly Christian female students aged 16 to 18 were abducted from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria, by the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram.

How many people has Boko Haram killed? ›

More than 35,000 people have been killed in northern Nigeria since 2009 when Boko Haram launched its insurgency aimed at overthrowing Nigeria's secular government and establishing an Islamic state.

When did Boko Haram kidnap the schoolgirls? ›

In April 2014, members of the armed group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 seniors at the Chibok Government Secondary School for Girls in northeast Nigeria.

Why do kids get kidnapped? ›

Some of the reasons why a stranger might kidnap an unknown child include: extortion to elicit a ransom from the parents for the child's return. illegal adoption, a stranger steals a child with the intent to rear the child as their own or to sell to a prospective adoptive parent.

What is the meaning of Boko Haram in English? ›

It is popularly known in Nigerian and Western media as “Boko Haram,” which means “Western education is forbidden” (the word boko is a holdover from the colonial English word for book).

Why are there kidnappings in Nigeria? ›

The drivers of kidnapping risk in Nigeria today include the upsurge in organised armed violence by non-state actors, the increasing trend of ritual criminality, the economics of ransom, and criminal opportunism.

How many Chibok girls are still in captivity? ›

“Out of the 276 abducted Chibok girls, 57 girls escaped in 2014 while 107 girls were released in 2018. "Three girls were recovered in 2019, two in 2021 and 9 were rescued in 2022, bringing the total of 178 girls out of captivity and 98 remaining in Boko Haram captivity,” he said.

Who named Nigeria? ›

Like so many modern African states, Nigeria is the creation of European imperialism. Its very name – after the great Niger River, the country's dominating physical feature – was suggested in the 1890s by British journalist Flora Shaw, who later became the wife of colonial governor Frederick Lugard.

Who is Leah Sharibu? ›

Sharibu was among the 110 students abducted by the Boko Haram terrorists at the Government Girls' Science Technical College, Dapchi, on February 19, 2018, when she was only 14 years old.

What does the Boko Haram want? ›

Boko Haram is an Islamic sect that believes northern politics has been seized by a group of corrupt, false Muslims. It wants to wage a war against them, and the Federal Republic of Nigeria generally, to create a “pure” Islamic state ruled by sharia law.

Why did the Boko Haram start? ›

In 2002, Mohammad Yusuf formed Boko Haram as a Sunni Islamist sect to oppose Western education and establish an Islamic state in Nigeria. The group has carried out numerous attacks since 2009, including the 2011 bombing of the U.N.

Why did Boko Haram happen? ›

Boko Haram gained widespread exposure in July 2009 when, after an incident in which group members were allegedly subjected to the excessive use of force by police and then were unable to get official investigation into the matter, the group launched attacks on police posts and other government installations, killing ...

How many children have Boko Haram kidnapped? ›

Of the more than 1,500 school children who have been abducted in northern Nigeria since the Chibok attack, at least 120 students remain in captivity. They are mostly schoolgirls, and their fate remains unknown.

Who is Boko Haram targeting? ›

For Boko Haram, and especially JAS, Muslim religious leaders expressing disagreement with the group's methods, are a priority target. There are reports of attacks and destruction of mosques, and the killing of Muslim worshippers.

How many kidnappings has Boko Haram done? ›

And in the last two years, at least one of the criminal gangs was infiltrated by Boko Haram. As I said, since December [2020], there have been eight mass kidnappings affecting six different states of Nigeria, in which over 1,000 students and teachers were taken.

Videos

1. Nigerian Schoolgirl Tells VOA of Harrowing Escape from Boko Haram
(Voice of America)
2. Freed Nigerian women tell of terror at the hands of Boko Haram
(euronews)
3. Escaping Boko Haram: Nigeria girls detail horrific abuse
(On Demand News)
4. ‪"I escaped Boko Haram" - Nigerian girl who was kidnapped with 270 others ("Bring Back Our Girls")‬
(UN Watch)
5. Boko Haram Kidnapping Survivors Now Pursuing Graduate Degrees To Help Others
(NBC News)
6. Boko Haram member: Kidnapped girls willingly converted to Islam
(CBS Evening News)

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