Forced to marry, raped in captivity and subjected to physical and psychological abuse – these are the reported experiences of women and girls captured by Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Human Rights Watch has released a report documenting the practices of the militant Islamist group which has abducted more than 500 girls since 2009. The kidnap of 276 girls from a school in Chibok focussed worldwide attention on the situation in Nigeria.
HRW sought out those girls who had escaped and asked them about their time in captivity.
One woman remembers the day she was taken:
“I was at home packing food when we heard gunshots. We ran into them (Boko Haram) as we tried to escape. They surrounded us and asked us where we were going. They said: ‘Since we’ve caught you, we are going to convert you to Islam’.”
Boko Haram loosely translates as ‘Western education is evil’. Many in captivity are forced to convert to Islam and for refusing to convert the report says they were subjected to “physical and psychological abuse; forced labour; forced participation in military operations, including carrying ammunition or luring men into ambush; forced marriage to their captors; and sexual abuse, including rape. In addition, they were made to cook, clean, and perform other household chores. Others served as porters, carrying the loot stolen by the insurgents from villages and towns they had attacked. While some of the women and girls seemed to have been taken arbitrarily, the majority appeared to have been targeted for abduction because they were students, Christians, or both.”
One woman who doesn’t want to be indentified says,“They told the Muslims to stand to one side, and the four of us, Christians, to the other. They released the Muslims but kept us.”
The report comes as news broke of 30 children being abducted by suspected Boko Haram fighters in northeast Nigeria, despite government claims of a truce.