About 100 schoolgirls are unwilling to go home after being kidnapped more than two years ago in Nigeria by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL)-linked jihadist group Boko Haram. Officials say the girls may have been radicalized, according to news reports.
Some of the girls may refuse to leave their captors because of fear that they will be labeled “Boko Haram wives,” a designation that will prompt abuse and reflection from conservative communities in Nigeria, according to experts.
The nearly 276 girls were taken captive in April 2014 from the Government Girls Secondary School in the small and conservative Christian enclave in the predominantly Muslim northeastern state of Borno, known as Boko Haram’s birthplace, during a raid by terrorist group received global attention.
According to the Guardian, about 190 girls remain in captivity, of which the Nigerian government is currently trying to negotiate the release of 83.
In what some media outlets have described as possible Stockholm syndrome, where the captives identify with and feel affection for their kidnappers, nearly 100 of the girls are unwilling to be separated from their tormentors.
A Boko Haram commander told the told Nigerian newspaper Vanguard on Sunday that some of the girls had “been married off and radicalized into Boko Haram as soon as they were captured over two years ago.”
Meanwhile, Pogu Bitrus, chairman of the Chibok Development Association, is quoted by Daily Mail as saying, “more than 100 others appeared unwilling to leave their captors,” adding that “they were ashamed to return home because they were forced to marry extremists and have their babies.”
“We would prefer that they are taken away from the community and this country because the stigmatisation is going to affect them for the rest of their lives,” also said Bitrus. “Even someone believed to have been abused by Boko Haram would be seen in a bad light.”
“Any sign that there has been sexual contact with any man, and these men are Boko Haram, will cause a backlash. The likelihood they will return home is slim,” noted Mausi Segun, a researcher in Nigeria for Human Rights Watch, the international campaign organization.
“Women and girls held by Boko Haram have fear and anxiety about how their families and communities will receive them … people being scared of you is traumatizing in its own right,” Patricia Grey, head of women’s protection and empowerment for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in northeast Nigeria, told Reuters.
“People often call former captives Boko Haram supporters or the enemy, and this could hinder girls getting the help they need as they fear the abuse will be even worse if they do so,” added the expert.
Bitrus spoke to Daily Mail about the ordeal of the kidnapped girls, many of whom are believed to have been taken as wives by jihadists and repeatedly raped while others have reportedly been forced to carry out taxing physical tasks.
Daily Mail reports:
Bitrus said the freed girls have told their parents they were separated into two groups early on in their captivity, when Boko Haram commanders gave them the choice of joining the extremists and embracing Islam, or becoming their slaves.
The latter group – made up of 104 girls – never saw their classmates again.
Mr Bitrus said they were used as domestic workers and porters but were not sexually abused. That group contain the 21 who were released last week and the 83 who the government are negotiating over.
In April, CNN published video footage of an interview of then-16-year-old Zara John, who was freed from Boko Haram in March 2015.
“She told me how much she relished her life with the Islamist militant commander to whom she was married off while in captivity for about a year, how he had taken care of her and provided all her needs,” noted the interviewer.
“If I had a gun when the Nigerian military came to rescue me, I would have shot at the soldiers,” declared the former captive.
The interviewer noted:
It could be Stockholm syndrome, or puppy love, or simply a case of a girl who, for the first time in her life as a young female in the hinterlands of northeast Nigeria, found a life purpose other than cooking and cleaning and babysitting for her family: she was part of a group which planned to take over the world.