Chi­bok girls tell of Boko Haram slav­ery

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

ABUJA, Nige­ria — They were taken deep into the Sam­bisa For­est to Boko Haram’s strong­hold, where the more than 200 school­girls from Chi­bok were of­fered a choice: Join the mil­i­tants or be­come their slaves.

About half of them chose to join and marry the fight­ers and were taken away, never to be heard from.

Those who re­fused en­dured more than two years of servi­tude, wash­ing, fetch­ing water and cook­ing for Boko Haram.

The girls, nearly all of them Chris­tians, lived in grass huts and were forced to con­vert to Is­lam. At first they ate rice and maize.

But then food be­came scarce. Dur­ing their cap­tiv­ity in the for­est, a few of them died.

These were the sto­ries that par­ents of the school­girls from Chi­bok heard Sun­day from 21 girls re­leased last week af­ter the Nige­rian govern­ment ne­go­ti­ated their free­dom.

The par­ents of the freed girls, as well as par­ents of girls still held cap­tive, were bused to the na­tion’s cap­i­tal for a joy­ful re­union cer­e­mony at a hospi­tal run by the coun­try’s se­cret police ser­vice.

Videos of the cer­e­mony showed re­united fam­i­lies hop­ping up and down to­gether in cel­e­bra­tion, singing Chris­tian songs of praise.

“I felt like it was the day that I born her into this world,” said Ruth Markus, the mother of Saratu Markus, one of the freed girls. “I danced and danced and danced.”

The girls are in the cus­tody of the se­cret police, and they are re­ceiv­ing med­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal care, govern­ment of­fi­cials said.

Nige­rian Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari, who took of­fice a year ago, had pledged dur­ing his cam­paign to find the girls. Of­fi­cials have said they ex­pect more girls to be re­leased soon.

As many as 276 girls were taken in April 2014 when mem­bers of Boko Haram stormed their board­ing school dur­ing exam week.

About 50 es­caped in the ini­tial days af­ter the ab­duc­tion, but be­fore last week only one had been found since: Amina Ali, who was dis­cov­ered this year roam­ing in the for­est with a baby.

Boko Haram fight­ers have cap­tured and killed large groups of other school­child­ren, but the kid­nap­ping of the stu­dents from Chi­bok caught the world’s at­ten­tion, fu­eled by a #Bring­back­our­girls so­cial me­dia cam­paign.

On Sun­day, peo­ple from Chi­bok who met with the girls said they looked gaunt.

“They’ve just be­come like skele­tons,” said Yana Galang, a mother of a still-miss­ing girl and a com­mu­nity leader of the Chi­bok par­ents.

Some par­ents who met with the girls said they had re­ported that one of the school­girls in their group of about 100 died of a snakebite, one died in child­birth (their en­camp­ment in­cluded male hostages, too) and four died in a bomb­ing.

The Swiss govern­ment and the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross helped bro­ker ne­go­ti­a­tions to re­lease the girls, and the Chi­bok res­i­dents who met with the girls Sun­day of­fered more de­tails about their re­lease.

Mil­i­tants had gath­ered the girls re­cently and told them that they were go­ing home. A few days later, a Red Cross ve­hi­cle rum­bled into the for­est where the girls were held.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives shook hands and talked with a mil­i­tant and then left. A mil­i­tant then read from a piece of paper the names of those who were to be freed.

Mil­i­tants later drove the girls for a cou­ple hours un­til their ve­hi­cle broke down. They pointed them in a di­rec­tion and told them to start walk­ing.

The girls walked for two days and ar­rived in a bor­der town where they were able to con­tact Nige­rian of­fi­cials. — NY Times

One of the girls freed by Boko Haram (right) cel­e­brates with mem­bers of her fam­ily on Sun­day in Abuja, Nige­ria.

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