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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Released Chibok Girls 'unwilling To Leave Captors'


The wife of the vice-president of Nigeria, Oludolapo
Osinbajo consoling one of the 21 released Chibok girls in
Abuja. Photograph: EPA

More than a third of almost 300 female students
abducted by Islamic militants from a school in
Nigeria two-and-a-half years ago appear
unwilling to leave their captors, a community
leader has said.
Nigeria’s government is negotiating the release
of 83 of about 190 girls from the the remote
town of Chibok who are still held by Boko
Haram in remote camps in the north-east of
Africa’s most populous country. Twenty-one
were freed last week as a “goodwill gesture” by
the group.
The mass abduction in April 2014 prompted a
global outcry, and an international campaign to
#BringBackOurGirls , backed by celebrities
including Michelle Obama.
The girls unwilling to return may have been
radicalised by Boko Haram or could feel
ashamed to return home because they were
forced to marry extremists and have children,
Pogu Bitrus, the chairman of the Chibok
Development Association, told the Associated
Press in a telephone interview.
Mausi Segun, a researcher in Nigeria for
Human Rights Watch , the international
campaign organisation, said the negative
reaction of conservative communities would
mean it was unlikely the released women would
be able to return to Chibok.
“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,” Segun said.
There have been frequent reports of stigma and
discrimination directed at women who are
released by, or escape from, Boko Haram.
Campaigners have repeatedly raised concerns
that the reaction of communities and relatives
to released women might complicate
negotiations, and exacerbate victims’ trauma.
Bitrus said the students freed last week in the
first negotiated release between Nigeria’s
government and Boko Haram should be
educated abroad. The girls and their parents
were reunited amid joyous scenes on Sunday.
“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,” Bitrus said. “Even someone
believed to have been abused by Boko Haram
would be seen in a bad light.”
On Sunday, a Boko Haram commander told
local newspaper the Vanguard that about 90 of
the students “had since become Boko Haram
members, having been married off and
radicalised ... as soon as they were captured
over two years ago”.
Commanders of the group, which has waged a
bloody insurgency for seven years, have also
claimed that some girls were killed when
Nigerian planes bombed their bases.
About 60 students who managed to escape in
the immediate aftermath of the raid in 2014
faced taunts and insults in Chibok, their home
town, since they were labelled “Boko Haram
wives”, Bitrus told AP.
At least 20 such girls are being educated in the
US.
Chibok is a small and conservative Christian
enclave in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria
where many parents are involved in translating
the Bible into local languages and belong to the
Nigerian branch of the Elgin, Illinois-based
Church of the Brethren.
“Many had to leave Chibok because they were
seen as Boko Haram wives, even if they didn’t
even get to the Boko Haram camp. Some never
even went back to Chibok and some left very
shortly after returning,” said Segun.
One father of a newly freed girl, Emos Lawal,
said his daughter was “praying that the rest of
them have the chance to come out”.
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,
Bitrus said.
The girls freed and those 104 whose release is
being negotiated are believed to be in the group
that rejected Islam and Boko Haram, he
explained. The freed girls said they never saw
the other girls again.
Few details have previously emerged of the
ordeal of the abducted girls, many of whom are
believed to have been taken as wives by
extremists and systematically raped . Others
have reportedly been forced to carry out
demanding physical tasks.
Bitrus said, however, that though the freed girls
were used as domestic workers and porters,
they were not sexually abused. He said only one
girl in the recently freed group was carrying a
baby, and her parents have confirmed that she
was pregnant when she was kidnapped.
This clashes with initial reports that many of
the recently released girls had infant children.
An aid worker had told AP that he had seen the
girls on their release and that all but three
carried babies. Bitrus said that report was
incorrect.
Previous negotiators in talks that failed also had
corroborated that more than 100 of the girls did
not want to return to their parents, Bitrus said.
A report by Mercy Corps, the US-based aid
organisation, suggested that women play a
significant role in the Boko Haram insurgency,
at least in its early stages. Nearly half of the
Boko Haram recruits interviewed for the study
were women. Some had been abducted or
forced to join the group, but not all.
Thousands of other women have been abducted
by Boko Haram over recent years and many
released. These have also faced systematic
discrimination and stigma on their return, say
experts.
Over the weekend, commanders from Boko
Haram said the girls were freed to prove good
faith and more will be released if demands for
cash and an exchange of prisoners EPA
met.
Nigeria’s government has denied reports the
girls were swapped for four Boko Haram
commanders, or that a large ransom was paid.
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