Last summer, the Nigerian military freed hundreds of women and girls from captivity by Boko Haram militants. Many had suffered sexual assault or were pregnant by their captors. Unfortunately, their rescue hasn’t ended their ordeal, as many have returned to their communities only to suffer marginalization and rejection.
A report release by UNICEF and International Alert found that communities are suspicious and distrustful of rescued victims, shunning them or treating them as tainted. Girls are taunted and labeled “Boko Haram wives” even if they were only captured for a few days and never sexually assaulted. Recent suicide bombings by abductees have made the situation worse, along with stories of returned children murdering their parents. People fear these girls have become radicalized by Boko Haram and will turn against their communities.
Mistrust turns to persecution if girls return pregnant or with children from sexual assault. People fear these children are “tainted,” and will grow up to be the next generation of Boko Haram militants. According to UNICEF’s report:
“They are deemed “hyenas among dogs”, as one community leader described them. Entrenched deterministic views among communities in northeast Nigeria refer to “bad blood” transmitted to children by their biological father – “a child of a snake is a snake” is a common saying. There is a belief that, like their fathers, the children will inevitably do what hyenas do and ‘eat’ the innocent dogs around them.”
Meanwhile, the victims of Boko Haram have suffered severe sexual, physical, emotional trauma in captivity. Persecution by their families and friends only adds to the hardship. The United Nations Population Fund is leading outreach to improve community perception of the victims, while supporting the returned women and girls with counseling and medical care.
Of the 700 rescued women and girls, none belong to the group of nearly 300 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram, which spurred the Bring Back Our Girls movement in the spring of 2014.