Displaced after repeated attacks by Boko Haram insurgents, some Borno teenagers have finally found their voices to narrate how they are sexually exploited by soldiers sent to the Northeast.
In a report first published by AFP, a local charity – Fa’ash Foundation brings to light, the tales of young women seduced by soldiers sent to their communities to fight and protect them sexually exploit them and yet go unpunished.
Coordinator of the Foundation, Ahmed Bolori reveals that a lot of young women have been impregnated by military officers who take advantage of these women. Before the pregnancy is detected, the military officer is posted to another place and he cannot be traced. He explained that the abandoned women are also victims of the Boko Haram menace.
Sitting on the trunk of a felled tree, her eyes fixed on her bulging belly, tears rolled down her cheeks. 18-year-old Ummi Hassan, who was just weeks away from giving birth narrated her ordeal at the outskirts of Maiduguri. She said:
“I was in love with a soldier who got me pregnant. He was redeployed when I was two months pregnant.”
She explained that she and her army lover kept in touch by telephone and she hoped to join him one day to bring up their baby in Lagos.
But her dreams were crushed when he refused to provide money for her antenatal care. She said; “I don’t have food to eat, I only eat what I get from friends.”
Kaltime A. another 18-year-old also said that the father of her son was also a soldier who had given her money to abort the pregnancy.
She said she was four months pregnant when he left and she currently doesn’t know his whereabouts as his phone is no longer reachable. In her words;
“There is hunger in Maiduguri, people don’t have food and have no money to buy anything to eat.
This is why many young women like me end up sleeping with soldiers and getting pregnant because they are the ones with money to spend.”
Another is Amina M, whose soldier boyfriend was redeployed to Northern Borno state when she was three months pregnant with her son, Umar. Now aged two, the toddler has never seen his father.
According to Amina, his colleague took her to Konduga (37 kilometres, 23 miles from Maiduguri) to see him but she was told he had been redeployed to Gwoza 90 kilometres away.
She explained that it was dangerous for her to go to Gwoza at the time because of Boko Haram, which made her return to accept her fate.
The three women talked of futile attempts to force their boyfriends to take responsibility, visits to the men’s superiors, being brushed off with excuses and having to survive on charity.
Now the girls are facing discrimination and rejection from their families for supposedly bringing them dishonour by having a child outside wedlock.
Ummi and Kaltime said their parents kicked them out when they discovered the pregnancies. Ummi moved in with friends while Kaltime went to her godmother’s.
Amina still lives with her parents but says their attitude towards her has changed and she is no longer treated with love and affection.
Bolori explains that the girls are ready prey for the soldiers because they are invariably poor, hungry and uneducated, adding that impunity also emboldens the perpetrators who go unpunished.
The group laments that government is not doing enough to protect displaced women and girls and ensure that they have access to basic rights and services or to sanction the abusers, who include camp leaders, vigilante groups, policemen, and soldiers.
Fa’ash Foundation said that it documented 43 cases of sexual abuse, including rape and exploitation, of 43 women and girls living in seven internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Maiduguri.
According to the group, four of the victims told Human Rights Watch that they were drugged and raped, while 37 were coerced into sex through false marriage promises and material and financial assistance.
Many of those coerced into sex said they were abandoned if they became pregnant. They and their children have suffered discrimination, abuse, and stigmatization from other camp residents. Eight of the victims said they were previously abducted by Boko Haram fighters and forced into marriage before they escaped to Maiduguri.
In a culture where unwanted pregnancies are really unwanted, Bolori warns of the need to accept the children regardless of the manner of their birth, stressing that the danger is that the children born by these sex victims will grow to be more dangerous than Boko Haram if discrimination against them is not checked.