Babies being birthed by women who have been forcefully married or raped by the Boko Haram militants are being stigmatized even before they are born, being refered to as ‘bad blood,’ an article summarized by Robyn Dixon on LA Times revealed.
Even before they start walking or talking, hostile eyes slide suspiciously over these children. In the womb, even their mothers might suspect them. They face a life being shunned, hated and rejected.
The plight of the children was detailed on Tuesday in a report released by UNICEF – International Alert – a British-based peace-building agency.
In an October interview by the report’s researchers with an unidentified woman freed after being abducted by Boko Haram, the woman revealed that she wanted to terminate her pregnancy, but changed her mind after counseling in an internally displaced persons camp.
When I think of the baby that will come, it disturbs me a lot because I always ask myself this question, ‘Will the child also behave like [Boko Haram]?’
Boko Haram, which is fighting to establish an Islamic state in northeastern Nigeria, has beheaded people, burned school boys alive in dormitories and killed schoolteachers, among other atrocities. But the act that received the most attention was its 2014 kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno state. A few escaped. The others were never recovered.
Nigerian President Mohammadu Buhari, elected last year on a promise to defeat Boko Haram and end corruption, has vowed to free the abducted schoolgirls if possible. But he told their parents at a meeting last month that authorities had no credible intelligence as to where they are.
The extremist group has abducted at least 2,000 girls and women since 2012. Nigerian forces have freed hundreds of abducted women and girls in recent months as they have driven Boko Haram out of towns and villages in northeastern Nigeria.
The girls are interrogated and screened by Nigerian officials and eventually allowed to move into displaced persons camps or to return home.
But they are rarely welcomed, according to the UNICEF-International Alert report. Some were rejected by their husbands, or ejected by co-wives who persuaded their husbands to divorce them, according to the report.
An unidentified representative of Borno state government in an interview with researchers said:
Boko Haram uses juju [witchcraft] to initiate members, so all women and children may have some of these traits in their blood.
For much of 2014 and early 2015, Boko Haram controlled a vast swath of northeastern Nigeria. Boko Haram fighters with AK-47s would sweep into towns and villages on motorbikes, SUVs and even at times armored personnel carriers. They often pulled up at the local market square and opened fire, killing dozens or hundreds of people.
They would burn down local shops, according to survivors of attacks, killing terrified shop keepers hiding inside. They dragged people out of houses and killed them on the spot.
But Boko Haram rarely killed women, unless they were accused of being spies. Instead, the militants abducted them and took them to base camps in their stronghold in the Sambisa Forest near the Cameroon border. Some women disguised their sons as girls to escape death at the hands of Boko Haram.
According to the report, women and girls who escaped Boko Haram are dubbed “annoba,” meaning “epidemic,” by their communities, suggesting they can spread dangerous extremist ideas. They’re also stigmatized and feared as “Sambisa women,” “Boko Haram blood” and “Boko Haram wives.”
Rumors abound of women returning from Boko Haram camps and killing their parents.
The reports say:
Popular cultural beliefs about ‘bad blood’ and witchcraft, as well as the extent of the violence experienced by people at the hands of Boko Haram, form the basis of this fear.
Victims’ husbands and fathers, whose views and feelings carry more weight in highly patriarchal societies such as the one in Borno, also have mixed feelings about their wives and daughters. These feelings range from complete rejection and fear to acceptance.
Interviews with family members of women and girls abducted by Boko Haram have proven that the belief is strongly held within the camps. A family member, who refused to identify her relationship with an abducted and raped Boko Haram victim, said:
No, I will not accept her, I am afraid.
One group of community leaders interviewed said that after a group of women who had escaped from Boko Haram moved into the area, community leaders set up a committee to spy on them. Women abducted and kept by Boko Haram in Gwoza — which was the group’s headquarters, where it set up governing structures — were regarded with deep suspicion, according to the report.
It said they would likely be attacked, even killed, were they to leave the displaced persons camps and attempt to return home.
Should they attempt to return with the rest of their community to Gwoza, they may face grave danger.
The report said.
Even where women are reluctantly accepted, their children face rejection, stigma and suspicion.
‘The child of a snake is a snake.’ goes a local saying.
One community leader interviewed for the report called the babies of Boko Haram fighters “hyenas among dogs.” The report concluded it was unlikely the children of Boko Haram fighters would ever gain acceptance.
An unidentified government leader in Borno state said in an interview:
The woman would be accepted, but not her child because of the husband’s genes..
The reports continue,
There is a belief that, like their fathers, the children will inevitably do what hyenas do and ‘eat’ the innocent dogs around them. In addition to the immediate risks to these children, it is likely that they will be stigmatized throughout their life, thus increasing their vulnerability to abuse and exploitation.
A Call For Government Sensitization Programmes
The report called for government programmes to sensitize communities to the suffering of Boko Haram’s victims and the children born of rape.
Community distrust of the women and girls has been deepened by Boko Haram’s recent practice of using them in suicide attacks. Last week, dozens of people were killed when two female suicide bombers blew themselves up in a displaced persons camp in Dikwa, 55 miles northeast of the Borno state capital, Maiduguri. A third woman was captured after deciding not to detonate her bomb because she didn’t want to kill her parents, who were in the camp, according to local officials cited in Nigerian media.
Local people interviewed by the researchers said that government screening of women before allowing them to move into camps wasn’t sufficient to ensure they didn’t harbor extremist ideas.
An overwhelming majority among the displaced population remain deeply distrustful of the returnees even though they have been screened.
The reports say,
They believe that the women and girls will need to go through a more comprehensive rehabilitation process before returning to their village of origin, as many fear that their return to the environment from where they were abducted could re-traumatize and ‘radicalize’ them.
Read Also: 6000 Boko Haram Insurgents Trapped
Source: LA Times