UN fears stigmatisation of rescued Boko Haram abductees

The United Nations voiced fears this week that rescued women and girls who became pregnant in Boko Haram captivity will face stigmatisation in conservative Nigerian communities, and that their babies could become “untouchable”.

“For those of them who have (become) pregnant as a result of rape, what are the options available to them?” asked Munir Safieldin, UN deputy humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria.

Boko Haram militants, who aim to create a hardline Islamic state, are estimated by Amnesty International to have kidnapped more than 2 000 women and girls in northeastern Nigeria since the beginning of 2014, including the 276 girls seized from their school in Chibok last year in a kidnapping that sparked global outrage.

Nigerian troops have recently stepped up efforts to rescue the captives, and while 219 of the Chibok students’ whereabouts remain unknown, close to 1 000 others have been set free, Safieldin told reporters in Geneva.

“This is definitely some very good news,” he said, warning though that the returning abductees were physically and psychologically scarred and could face towering challenges to reintegrating into their often deeply conservative communities.

A number of them had become pregnant during their captivity, while others had reportedly been infected with HIV, he said.

While unable to provide overall figures, he said the pregnancy cases were “quite alarming”, pointing out that the raped girls could be stigmatised and shunned for having sex before marriage.

“Many communities may not accept that these girls are victims and need to be supported and not victimised further,” he said.

He also voiced concern for the safety and wellbeing of the babies soon to be born out of the calamity, stressing that “we don’t want them to end up as an untouchable group”.

Safieldin meanwhile said he hoped Nigeria’s new government under Muhammadu Buhari, who will be sworn in as president, would keep its promise and step up the fight against Boko Haram.

Outgoing president Goodluck Jonathan has come under severe criticism for not doing enough to free the Chibok girls or to end the Boko Haram insurgency that has claimed at least 15 000 lives and forced some 1.5 million people to flee their homes since 2009.

“We do hope that with the new government pushing against Boko Haram there won’t be any more civilians under the abduction of Boko Haram at all,” Safieldin said.

Image – Some of the 275 women and children rescued from Boko Haram during military operations leave the Malkohi camp outside the Adamawa state capital, Yola, in northeast Nigeria, on May 25, 2015. The former hostages were freed earlier this month but the military said last week they were being moved to an undisclosed location for medical treatment and counselling to help them come to terms with their ordeal. (AFP)