‘I was flogged daily:’ Rescued Boko Haram survivors share tales of horror

Editor’s Note: Ratidzai Ndhlovu is the representative of the United Nations Population Fund in Nigeria. The views expressed in this piece are those of the author. To protect the identity of the survivors, their real names have not been used.

CNN  — 

The Malkohi Camp in Yola, Adamawa State, in north-eastern Nigeria, is home to the 275 women and children who were recently rescued from the Sambisa Forest, a stronghold of Boko Haram.

Prior to their rescue, the camp was home to about 845 internally displaced persons. With the arrival of the recently rescued women and children, the camp now houses more than 1,000 people.

On the surface, it seems that normal life has resumed for many of the camp’s residents. Joyful tales of reunions with families and loved ones are sometimes shared among the women and girls, such as Hauwa, an adolescent who was reunited with her parents after seven months in captivity.

Tales of captivity

But for most, life is anything but normal. They are enduring the trauma of being abducted, abused and having their hopes dashed and futures undermined. Some report having been raped. Others were forced to watch their husbands slaughtered, their homes burnt and their children abducted.

Hafsat, a 26-year-old and mother of three, recounts her story from the day she was captured. She said: “When gunmen came to my village 11 months ago, killing everyone in sight, I thought I could escape. But I was wrong.” She went on to explain that she was abducted in Yaza, in Borno State.

She said the day of her abduction was the last time she saw her two sons, Bawa and Mohammed, eight and six-years-old, respectively. She was left to care alone for her third son, two-year-old Ismail.

She said many other women were separated from their children as well: “When the shooting stopped, we were all led like animals into the forest. I saw babies die and watched in pain as children were asked to bury them.

“In Sambisa Forest, I was asked to renounce my religion or be treated as a slave. I refused, and I was flogged daily. I did the chores and was given maize and guinea-corn peels to eat. At that time, it meant a lot because some days I had nothing to eat.”

Help needed

There are also other tales of terror, such as that of a 24-year-old woman who was abducted five months ago and was forced to marry one of the insurgents, making her his fourth wife, or the 16-year-old girl who gave birth in the forest without any medical aid.

It is to these survivors of Boko Haram’s atrocities that the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, is providing reproductive health care, psychosocial support and trauma counseling, so they may begin the long process of recovery and reintegration into their families and communities.

The UNFPA pledges to help protect the health and dignity of every woman and girl who is freed by or escapes from their Boko Haram captors. With the full support of local and international agencies, as well as the state and federal governments and civil society, survivors of the heinous acts committed against them may one day see some semblance of a normal life and reclaim the futures brutally taken from them.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ratidzai Ndhlovu.