The organisation Human Rights Watch have accused the Nigerian government of ‘completely failing in its duty’ to rescue women and girls kidnapped by Islamic terror group Boko Haram.
In a report released today, which features the harrowing ordeal of some victims who managed to escape from the fundamentalists, they say that many of the kidnappings have been covered up and it was only the high profile #BringBackOurGirls campaign which shone a spotlight onto the terror facing Nigerian women.
The evidence given in the report shows Boko Haram forced their victims to marry, convert to Islam, and endure physical and psychological abuse, forced labour, and rape in captivity.
The group has abducted more than 500 women and girls since 2009, and intensified abductions since May 2013, when Nigeria imposed a state of emergency in areas where Boko Haram is most active. The report is based on interviews with more than 46 witnesses and victims of Boko Haram abductions in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states, including with girls who escaped the April 2014 abduction of 276 girls from Chibok secondary school.
One victim who escaped from the kidnappers in the early stages of their mission said the girls, who were revising for their exams, were told “You are only coming to school for prostitution.” Their kidnappers were also adamant they would follow Islamic cultural dress code from the very start, saying to them, “make sure you put on your scarves – we will shoot any girl we see without a scarf.”
Because of the dust on the roads and the penetrating darkness, some girls managed to escape and run bare foot in the night to safety.
The report highlighted that many of the girls who have returned home from the camps were pregnant, and because of the stigma and shame were sent away by their families.
It’s the sexual assault which leads to so much secrecy surrounding what happens to those captured by the fundamentalists as families feel they should be ashamed of what happened, rather than Boko Haram militants who committed these hideous crimes.
Boko Haram translates roughly from the Hausa language as ‘Western Education is forbidden.’ While it has taken some victims arbitrarily, it seems to target students and Christians, in particular. The group threatens victims with whipping, beating, or death unless they convert to Islam, stop attending school, and wear the veil or hijab.
A 19-year-old secondary school student in Konduga, Borno State, told Human Rights Watch that when armed Boko Haram insurgents stopped the vehicle in which she and five other female students were traveling home from school in January, one of the insurgents shouted, “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.”
The students were held in the insurgents’ camp deep within the 518-square-kilometer Sambisa forest for two days. They were released after they pretended to be Muslims and pledged never to return to school. The young women have not returned to school, swelling the already large number of students who drop out of secondary school in northeast Nigeria. Other women and girls were abducted from their homes and villages, or while working on their farms, fetching water, or selling items on the street.
According to HRW, about 500 women and girls been taken by the group and many of them remain in captivity.
Many people are only aware of the Boko Haram kidnappings and crimes because of the Chibok tragedy and the subsequent campaign which included Michelle Obama in its numbers.
Human Rights Watch have asked the Nigerian government why there is no proper operation to rescue them. A dozen of the girls present said there was no one at all apart from an elderly civilian security guard who fled when the kidnappers arrived even thought it was a State owned school. They report that the girls were left in total darkness during the night whereas the boys were day students and thus could return home.
Daniel Bekele, Africa Director at Human Rights Watch said: “Now the Nigerian government and its allies need to step up their efforts to put an end to these brutal abductions and provide for the medical, psychological and social needs of the women and girls who have managed to escape.”