When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Nigeria

The Complicated Recovery Of Former Boko Haram Hostages

More than 270 women and children who were held captive by Boko Haram have been rescued and are recovering in Nigeria, but treatment and taboos are tricky to navigate.

Screenshot of a Boko Haram video showing the "Chibok girls" kidnapped in April 2014
Screenshot of a Boko Haram video showing the "Chibok girls" kidnapped in April 2014
Maureen Grisot

YOLA — These women, whose eyes were shadowed by sorrow and resignation when they arrived in Yola in early May, are little by little smiling again. It was to this eastern Nigeria town, near the Cameroon border, that the Nigerian army brought them after rescuing them from the Sambisa Forest, where Boko Haram fighters held them captive for months. Seventy women and more than 200 distressed and scrawny children, their bellies swollen from malnutrition, ended up in this camp sheltering hundreds of people who fled villages attacked by Islamists.

Fatima was not able to leave her house near Maiduguri in time, before the men with the black flags started shooting and burning everything in their path in December 2014. She was taken prisoner with her 18-month-old daughter. "We went through several towns before arriving in the forest," she says. "In addition to my daughter, I had to take care of seven children from my neighborhood, who were separated from their parents when we were kidnapped. It wasn't easy because we didn't have enough food. I often didn't eat. The children were my priority."

Separated into small groups, the captives tried to organize their survival, all the while attempting to keep enough strength to resist the assaults of Boko Haram fighters. "We were often flogged if we walked in the wrong direction, or if we took too much time putting our veils on," she explains. "We prayed constantly because we didn't know if we would be freed one day. Some of those who refused to get married with them had given up. They thought they would be killed. We didn't think we'd get out of there."

[rebelmouse-image 27089042 alt="""" original_size="2100x301" expand=1]

The view from Yola — Photo: Leigh Bowden

Sexual abuse

It's hard to talk about the sexual abuse so many of these women suffered. Fatima says she resisted the union the fighters wanted to impose on several of the women, a sort of conversion to Boko Haram's Islam, even for those who were already Muslim. It was a way for these men to justify forcing sex on the women, pretending to forget the abuse, the humiliation, the threats they issued.

Fatima, who always wears her huge red-and-blue-checkered veil, is one of the few who is wholly open to questions from journalists. "I learned that my husband was alive. I hope he'll see me on television or in pictures and that he'll come and get me," the 27-year-old woman says with a suddenly cheerful voice.

But the way back will be long for a large number of them, still traumatized. They are following group therapies to start rebuilding themselves, even if taboos are still strong. "A woman wanted to talk about the sexual abuse of which she was the victim, but suddenly, a woman next to her told her to keep quiet," says Christian Macauley Sabum, who coordinates psychological care for the United Nations Population Fund. "She told her, "You know your husband could hear this, and it could have consequences on your marriage.""

Slow re-entry

These women who were cut off from everything, some for more than a year, must also learn how to live again. The Nigerian authorities took time to understand this. It took them a week to prepare cloths for them and provide the essentials: soap, powdered milk, diapers and feeding bottles. When they receive these basic necessities, these mothers lighten up. Not only do they finally possess something, but they will be able to provide for their children.

[rebelmouse-image 27089043 alt="""" original_size="360x600" expand=1]

Woman selling yogurt in Yola, Nigeria — Photo: Suleiman213

About 30 of these women are pregnant, according to a social worker who wishes to remain anonymous. Terribly ill at ease, these women try to conceal their pregnancies under their large veils. Some could have already been pregnant before they were kidnapped, but they will never be able to escape speculation otherwise.

Many of these captives come from Mubi, a city 200 kilometers further north that Boko Haram occupied for weeks at the end of 2014, before it was retaken by the army. About three-quarters of its residents returned, but it will be complicated for these women to join their families.

On May 21, the Nigerian army announced that the women and their children were moved to an unknown destination to undergo medical and psychological treatment.

"We know they've been through very distressful things, but it scares us, because their children could become bad eggs for the nation," says a man named Petrus, who is conversing with other Mubi men in the shadow of a mango tree. "We don't know what's in their heads, so we prefer it if the government keeps them under observation for now."Â

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Ideas

A Brief History Of Patriarchy — And How To Topple It

Many people assume the patriarchy has always been there, but how did it really originate? History shows us that there can be another way.

Women protest on International Women's Day in London in 2022

Ruth Mace*

The patriarchy, having been somewhat in retreat in parts of the world, is back in our faces. In Afghanistan, the Taliban once again prowl the streets more concerned with keeping women at home and in strict dress code than with the impending collapse of the country into famine.

And on another continent, parts of the U.S. are legislating to ensure that women can no longer have a legal abortion. In both cases, lurking patriarchal beliefs were allowed to reemerge when political leadership failed. We have an eerie feeling of travelling back through time. But how long has patriarchy dominated our societies?

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ