I have witnessed terrible things

The following is an interview with 17 year old ‘Aminata’ (not her real name). She was taken by Boko Haram against her will two years ago and forced to marry an insurgent. Aminata had no choice but to live with the insurgents for two years, until she finally managed to escape.

Aminata is now an internally displaced person (IDP) living in one of many camps established in north-eastern Nigeria – the location undisclosed to protect her identity. This interview was conducted in a safe, protected location by a female UNICEF Nigeria Child Protection Officer on 14 October 2016.

I came in contact with Boko Haram insurgents in my hometown in Borno State, north-eastern Nigeria. They saw me at my uncle’s house during their first attack on our town. I have lived with my uncle since I was two years old. My biological father and family live in Cameroon.

Boko Haram invaded the town and convinced my uncle to join them. They also asked if there were any girls in his compound. They offered 1,000 naira for each girl.

I was sitting next to my grandmother when they dragged me to a car. They took me to an unknown location outside my town. They had taken me and another 14 girls from my neighbourhood. I was held there for two months and then I was forced to marry one of the insurgents. Before you marry an insurgent, you are a maid. You wash plates and cook for the insurgents. But when you get married, you become a wife and also focus on only him.

The ‘wedding’ had nothing. There was no clothing, no lotions, no creams, no presents. It was just in my old clothes that I went to the house of my ‘husband’, which was just a hut with a room in it. That was where we lived. And every time he wanted to have sex I refused, and then he would rape me and beat me up. I cannot count the number of times he has beaten me.

I lived there with the armed group for two years. It was a very bad experience. I have witnessed terrible things, including the slaughtering of women in a town by the insurgents. They killed women who refused to marry them. Once they caught someone who had married another wife without telling them. They buried him up to his head in the ground. Then they stoned his head until he died. It was a public punishment that we were forced to watch.

In some villages, when they attack, they steal cattle and sell it off before feeding their wives and children. We didn’t ever have enough food. And any food we did get, didn’t have any condiments. The insurgents have to steal food from villages or attack villages before we eat. They don’t have any food.

My insurgent ‘husband’ had three wives before me who had become suicide bombers. But he decided he wanted me to remain as his ‘wife’. But two weeks later, he married another wife. I was very scared.

My ‘husband’ told me that if he decides or wants to, he will send me and my co-wife to town as suicide bombers. I was so scared. Three days after that, I told one of the women that I was going to a nearby village to visit my grandmother.  My ‘husband’ gave me three days for the visit.

I was with my grandmother in that village when the military arrived to fight the insurgents. After the fighting, the military took me with them to Bama. I was in Bama with the military for a month before I was brought here. My uncle and his brothers are still with the insurgents, and I have seen them carry out terrible acts, including killing people.

I really miss my family, and I wish I could see them again. We have been separated for too long. They live in Cameroon. I sincerely hope that everyone who has been taken like me can leave Boko Haram and be reintegrated back into society. My co-wife used to tell me to stop thinking about my parents, but she also said, “Don’t worry, you will find them one day.” I hope it is true.

I have been living as an IDP here in this camp for four months. I am pregnant. When I discovered I was pregnant, I was so unhappy, because it was my ‘husband’ who did it. The pregnancy is very difficult for me. But people here in the camp have been kind. People ask me how I escaped, and when I tell them, they say “Thank God you escaped!”

It is good, because although people know I was with the insurgents, so far no one has treated me badly. I live with people from my LGA [local government area] here in the camp, and they understand and treat me well. They have been very supportive. I only have a craving for certain foods which I cannot get here, and to see my family.

I hope to get married one day in the future. And to start a business. But, because I have never been in school, I cannot start doing that now, unfortunately. I also want villagers who had to flee the conflict to remain here for a little while and not rush back to their towns and villages to resettle. We suffered there tremendously.

But I am still happy. I am extremely happy I am no longer with the insurgents. I want to thank all the people who have helped me. All I want now is to see my family again.

UNICEF estimates that more than 7,000 women and girls have been held and subjected to violence by Boko Haram. Most are believed to have been raped or forcibly ‘married’ to their captors, and many, like Aminata, became pregnant as a result.

When they manage to escape or are released, they need psychological and medical support to come to terms with their experiences and reintegrate with their families and communities. It’s a long, challenging process, and in addition to the trauma of their captivity, many face stigma, discrimination and rejection by their families and communities on their return. Community members are often afraid the women and girls have been indoctrinated by Boko Haram and pose a threat to their communities. Children born out of sexual violence are at even greater risk of rejection, abandonment and violence.

UNICEF, in collaboration with International Alert, provides psychosocial support for girls and women who have experienced sexual violence, and for children born as a result. UNICEF also provides psychosocial support for children and families affected by conflict in Nigeria, including through child-friendly spaces, psychosocial training of teachers, and education, in protective and safe learning environments, for children like Aminata.

 

Kent Page is a senior UNICEF communication advisor currently serving on the UNICEF Nigeria Immediate Response Team.

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Comments:

  1. There is tight correlation between human development, environment, and security and giving them equal importance in a triangulation approach facilitates their convergence towards improvement.

    Individuals grow and develop due to biological factors, experiences, personal reactions to externalities and social interaction with other people in different situations. Their own sensitivity and character as well as level of education play a role in the process together with the environment. This last can be defined as sum of human beings, communities, institutions, rules, opportunities, and nature. Therefore, when people relate to and within an environment which is stimulating and positive, they can augment their capacity of learning, thinking in a creative way, developing ideas and projects together with exercising tolerance, respect and adaptability. On the contrary, when the environment is negative and offers a few or none opportunities for personal and professional growth, an individual can diminish her/his ability to action and motivation. Something happens at psychological level. This negativity can be experienced within the family, a community, a working place, an institution or an area.

    Also, people can suffer from a difficult environment due to crisis or conflicts or post-conflict situations. In this regards, working on human security and facilitating freedom from fear, want and hate could create good ground for a sustainable development and help individuals face the problems and eventually find the necessary energy to recover. Children and young people should receive special attention because they are those who have seen foreign soldiers arriving in their houses, schools, towns and cities to fight against their fathers and brothers. So they might have developed distorted thoughts and opinions. Also, the women, who are generally the people taking care of the entire households in developing countries, if not properly educated, could teach their children hate, racism and violence with the hope to make them become stronger and ready to face all circumstances. Therefore educational and recovering programs should be planned in parallel to operations. Gender issues should always be addressed in all developmental programs, as components at least. In fact, the women, often hidden or left apart in the decision processes, play a fundamental role and their empowerment could facilitate the sustainability of the activities undertaken. They are involved during conflicts or reconstruction processes but, later, their contributions are often forgotten.

    As always, thanks UNICEF for your outstanding work worldwide. Laura Gagliardone