Girls kidnapped by Islamist insurgents in Nigeria earlier this month are being married off to militants in mass weddings, according to a report in the British newspaper the Guardian.
The report said that relatives of some of the girls snatched during a mass abduction from a school in Chibok, a village in Nigeria's Borno state, were informed of the mass weddings by people who have been searching for the girls in the forest and border villages where the girls are believed to be held.
On Sunday, locals told the searchers that they had seen truckloads of girls in the area, the Guardian article said. One farmer recounted how insurgents had fired celebratory gunshot after mass weddings on Saturday and Sunday.
"It's unbearable. Our wives have grown bitter and cry all day. The abduction of our children and the news of them being married off is like hearing of the return of the slave trade," Yakubu Ubalala, whose 17- and 18-year-old daughters Kulu and Maimuna are among the disappeared, is quoted as saying in the article.
Earlier this month, parents of some of the girls told state authorities that they were searching for their daughters in a remote forest, adding that 234 were still missing - a much higher figure than the 129 authorities said had been kidnapped.
The kidnapping of the teenage schoolgirls by Boko Haram, who are fighting for a breakaway Islamic state in northern Nigeria, shocked Africa's most populous country.
The attack also underlined how powerless the military has become at protecting civilians in the areas plagued by the insurgency, despite a state of emergency nearly a year old that was meant to destroy it.
Boko Haram - whose name means "Western education is forbidden" - began abducting girls as a tactic early last year. It is eerily reminiscent of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army, which abducted thousands of school-aged girls across central Africa to use as forced "wives" for their commanders.
Britain's Channel 4 reported on Tuesday that some of the girls, who mostly came from Christian families, were converted to Islam and married off in neighbouring Cameroon, according to a senior community leader in Chibok.
The girls are "alive but they have been moved from the location to which they were originally taken", a source told Channel 4 and added that a deal to free the girls may be within reach.