Rape: Boko Haram’s domination strategy
DALORI — Hundreds of women and girls captured by Boko Haram have been raped, many repeatedly, in what officials and relief workers describe as a deliberate strategy to dominate rural residents and possibly even create a new generation of Islamist militants in Nigeria.
In interviews, the women described being locked in houses by the dozen, at the beck and call of fighters who forced them to have sex, sometimes with the specific goal of impregnating them.
“They married me,” said Hamsatu (25) a young woman in a black-andpurple head scarf, looking down at the ground.
“She said she was four months pregnant, that the father was a Boko Haram member and that she had been forced to have sex with other militants who took control of her town.
“They chose the ones they wanted to marry,” added Hamsatu, whose full name was not used to protect her identity.
“If anybody shouts, they said they would shoot them.”
Boko Haram, a radical Islamist sect that has taken over large stretches of territory in the country’s northeast, has long targeted women, rounding them up as it captures towns and villages.
Women and girls have been given to Boko Haram fighters for “marriage,” a euphemism for the sexual violence that occurs even when unions are cloaked in religion.
Now, dozens of newly-freed women and girls, many of them pregnant and battered, are showing up at a sprawling camp for the displaced outside the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, as Nigerian soldiers and other military forces try to push Boko Haram out of nearby territory it has occupied for much of the past year.
The full human toll of that occupation is only now emerging. More than 15 000 people have sought shelter at the camp, at an abandoned federal office-worker training centre, most of them women, relief officials said.
Over 200 have so far been found to be pregnant, but relief officials believe many more are bearing the unwanted children of Boko Haram militants.
“The sect leaders make a very conscious effort to impregnate the women,” said the Borno governor, Kashim Shettima.
“Some of them, I was told, even pray before mating, offering supplications for God to make the products of what they are doing become children that will inherit their ideology.”
The militants have openly promised to treat women as chattel. After Boko Haram militants kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls from the village of Chibok last year, the group’s leader called them slaves and threatened to “sell them in the market.”
“We would marry them out at the age of nine,” the leader, Abubakar Shekau, said in a video message soon after the girls were abducted, prompting the global “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign. “We would marry them out at the age of 12.”
As the group has lost control of towns and thousands of people have fled in recent weeks, a grim picture of that treatment has emerged: hundreds of women and girls as young as 11 subjected to systematic, organised sexual violence.
Yahauwa (30) used her green head scarf to wipe away tears as she clutched a plastic bag full of medicine. She had just tested positive for HIV.
“Is it from the people who forced me to have affairs with them?” she asked a relief worker, tears streaming down her face.
Later, she explained that she and many other women had been “locked in one big room”.when they came, they would select the one they wanted to sleep with,” she said. “They said, ‘If you do not marry us, we will slaughter you.’ ”
As the women spoke, two trucks crammed with more people arrived at the rudimentary camp guarded by watchful soldiers. Even the local news media is kept out.
Many of the residents of the camp spend the day outside in blazing 100-degree-plus heat. They dare not return home.
Six years ago, Nigerian security forces clashed violently with Boko Haram members, and the group has been waging unremitting war against the federal government ever since.
It recently declared allegiance to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and its successes over the years contributed substantially to the defeat of Goodluck Jonathan, in a March presidential election.
Thousands have been killed in Boko Haram’s war against the Nigerian state, often characterised by the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians.
Boko Haram is now on the retreat, but the countryside is not secure. People from several towns said the militants had not been defeated, as the Nigerian military maintains, but had simply fled as troops advanced with superior firepower.
Indeed, Maiduguri itself, a city of more than two million, came under attack again from Boko Haram last week.
The militants tried to storm a military base and were pushed back only after hours of what residents said was heavy shooting by the military.
On Saturday, a suicide bomber, a young girl, killed at least seven people in nearby Damaturu, and officials said the insurgents had recaptured the town of Marte.
The attack on Maiduguri was at least the third such attack on the state capital this year.
The humiliation of what the refugees have been through led many of the women interviewed at the camp to deny being abused by the militants.
But relief workers here said that when they arrived, many acknowledged that they had been raped.
Fanna, a delicate 12-year-old who had arrived at the camp three days before, crouched on the floor, clasping her knees, and insisted in her thin child’s voice that Boko Haram had not touched her.
Relief officials said that in her camp entry interview, she, too, had said she was raped by the militants.
Now, many officials worry about the long-term health effects of the abuse. — NY Times.
A Red Cross official takes data from women and children rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Boko Haram extremists at Sambisa Forest rest at a refugee camp in Yola, Nigeria on 4 May.