/ 18 February 2016

Communities spurn women freed from Boko Haram

The abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria in 2014 shocked the world and epitomises Boko Haram’s attack on Western-style education in particular.
The abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria in 2014 shocked the world and epitomises Boko Haram’s attack on Western-style education in particular.

Women and girls freed from Boko Haram face discrimination and rejection by their families and communities when they return home and need better support from the Nigerian government and nongovernmental organisations, according to a new report.

As the military gains ground from the Islamic militant group, more women and girls, who have been subjected to sexual violence, are being released. But when they get home, they are viewed with mistrust and suspicion and do not receive adequate support to help them cope with the trauma of what they’ve experienced, according to the report published by International Alert and United Nations Children’s Fund.

“These findings show a pressing need to do more to reintegrate those returning from captivity by Boko Haram. Many of these girls already face the lasting trauma of sexual violence and being separated from their families, so we must ensure they get all the support they need when they finally return,” said Kimairis Toogood, peace-building adviser for International Alert in Nigeria.

“If the needs of these survivors and returning populations are not met, these factors could add another dimension to an already complex conflict situation.”

Since 2012, more than 2 000 women and girls have been abducted by Boko Haram, including more than 200 taken from their school in Chibok in 2014. The kidnappings spawned the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which attracted global attention from the likes of Michelle Obama.

People released from captivity said they endured physical and sexual violence, forced marriage to militants and forced labour. Some were trained to become suicide bombers.

The report said some of the rejection returnees face stems from fear that they will try to radicalise others. Children born as a result of rape are viewed with particular scorn because they are considered tainted by the “bad blood” transmitted from their militant biological fathers. “The rejection and revictimisation of women, girls and their children, as well as their yet unborn babies, needs to be understood in the context of the ongoing insurgency,” said the report.

“Many people view these women, girls and their children as a direct threat, fearing that they have been indoctrinated and radicalised … The recent increase in the use of female suicide bombers throughout Nigeria … has also reinforced the widely held belief among many that women and girls exposed to [Boko Haram] are contributing to the overall insecurity in the region.”

Last week, a girl claiming she had been sent by Boko Haram refused to detonate her suicide vest in the Dikwa refugee camp. Two others carried out their mission, killing at least 58 people. The report added: “Some also believe that the children conceived as a result of sexual violence or sexual relations with [Boko Haram] members will become the next generation of fighters, as they carry the violent characteristics of their biological fathers.”

The report calls on the government and nonprofits to support those returning home. – © Guardian News & Media 2016