Thousands of African girls and women who have managed to escape the clutches of the Nigeria-based jihadist group Boko Haram are stigmatized by their communities upon their return.
The message that many of those females are greeted with upon returning home has been “Stay Away,” reports the Associated Press (AP).
“As U.S.-backed African governments make military advances against the Islamic extremist group and rescue more and more of the kidnapped and enslaved, aid groups and activists say a new challenge is mounting: rehabilitation,” it adds.
The most stigmatized group is reportedly those who have been abducted, reaped, married by force, or otherwise mistreated by Boko Haram jihadists.
In their communities, they are sometimes labeled “Boko Haram wives” or even “epidemics.” The victims lack organized services that can help them and people who will treat them as survivors.
“No one helped me, just one person who got me these clothes,” said Maria Saidu, a 32-year-old woman who was held captive by Boko Haram for more than a year.
During her recent visit to Boko Haram-affected countries in West Africa, Samantha Power, America’s U.N. ambassador, called attention to efforts to help victims of Boko Haram.
“In the eastern Nigerian city of Yola, where displaced people far outnumber native residents, Power met Friday with several people from the group of Chibok schoolgirls whose kidnapping two years ago sparked the world-famous ‘#Bring Back Our Girls’ social media campaign,” notes AP.
“While 219 remain in captivity, the ones Power lauded for their courage are now receiving free education at the American University of Nigeria. They speak of becoming doctors or chemical engineers or undertaking other careers,” it adds.
However, not many victims have been lucky to receive the same treatment.
“There is nothing we can hold onto,” said Monica, a 22-year-old from northern Nigeria, who was held hostage for a month and lost her child while escaping. “We are just here. We are alive but not living.”
Citing a recent report by UNICEF and International Alert, a peace-building organization, AP reports that family and community reaction to those who return from captivity varies.
“Some women, believed to have joined Boko Haram voluntarily, are seen as deserving of the brutal treatment they received. Some communities shun them, worried about the contagion of radicalization in their midst,” notes AP.
“Fears of violence are pervasive after two kidnapped girls blew themselves up at a refugee camp last year, killing 60 people,” it adds. “A third girl with explosives strapped to her body backed out at the last minute after spotting her mother at the settlement.”
Rape victims are especially stigmatized, according to Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former Nigerian minister who leads the Bring Back Our Girls campaign.
Much more assistance is needed for the victims, said Ezekwesili.
Those who have been sexually assaulted are a particular problem “because of the stigma and the sense that it would be hopeless to go forward and be known as a rape victim,” she added.
The courts often engage in “victim bashing,” Ezekwesili explained, noting that religious leaders do not always help much.