Nigeria: Special Report - How Boko Haram-Displaced Women, Girls Are Sexually Abused At IDP Camps (1)

Women and children collect water in Mafa IDP camp, Borno state, north-east Nigeria.

Rape and related sexual violence happen every day in many parts of Nigeria. But it is more prevalent in environments where structures needed for the protection of the victims are missing. Places like camps for persons displaced by Boko Haram or any other kind of conflict leave the female-child particularly more vulnerable to rape.

In the past years, there have been rising concerns over the spike of rape and related sexual violence on female inmates of internally-displaced persons' (IDPs) camps as well as those living outside the camps.

Teenage and underage girls are daily abused but hardly do the survivors or their families speak out. The society they live in would instead pressure survivors not to press for charges, or the parents would rather keep quiet to "protect the dignity" of the girl-child growing up. Many would instead look unto God for justice because they could not afford the process of litigation. As such, most of such cases die at the police station.

Fatima, 16, is the mother of a one-year-old son. She was barely 14 when she was raped and became pregnant. Even at 16, she is still too young to nurse the child, Adamu.

As she spoke to the PREMIUM TIMES reporter, her son sat on her laps. She struggled to hold onto Adamu, who kept jumping and giggling as he fondled his little mother's face and attempted to pull off the veil covering her head.

"I don't know where his father is at present; I haven't seen him for over two years now," she said with her sad face looking down.

"Muhammadu is the father of Adamu, but he is not my husband - he can never be my husband because he raped me.

"He did not only rape me; he also asked four of his friends to strip me naked, held my hands and my legs while he forced himself on me and defiled me," she said in tears.

Not a stranger

Muhammadu, the young man, whose surname Amina does not know, was not a stranger to her. The two of them were internally displaced persons from Bama, one of the local government areas worst affected by the Boko Haram insurgency. When the outlawed armed Islamic militia rained terror on various communities about four years ago, the entire town of Bama, which is the headquarters of Bama local government, and its surrounding communities were sacked. The residents fled to Maiduguri, the state capital.

Most of the IDPs who survived the Boko Haram carnage of 2016 took refuge in Bakasi 1 and Bakasi 2 IDP camps located on the outskirts of Maiduguri along Bama road. It was at the IDP camp that Muhammadu met Amina, an orphan whose parents died in an attack by Boko Haram. She was living with a maternal aunt in Bakasi Camp when Muhammadu began to make love advances towards her.

"Since when I was 14 years old, he said he wanted to marry me. I developed affection towards him, and we later became friends," she said.

Every evening Fatima, in spite of her age, would quickly finish her chores, take her bath, put on some makeup, and wait for Muhammadu to come lurking around the dark corner behind their house.

Maintaining a distance, they would chat romantically about their future as spouses. Sometimes, Muhammadu would bring her little gifts like roasted meat, sweets, and other snacks. Sometimes he would give her some money.

"He wanted to marry me and I looked forward to being his wife," she said.

As tradition demands, there would be no sexual relationship until he paid her dowry.

But her aunt did not approve of their relationship.

"When Muhammdu made his intention known to my aunt and her husband, my aunt said it would never happen. When Muhammadu's relatives came to see the husband of my aunt to ask for my hands in marriage, the husband told them he had no say in such matters, that my aunt, his wife, should be the one to be consulted.

"When they approached my aunt with the matter, she told them bluntly that she won't give her daughter to a Kanuri person - because she felt those who killed my parents were Kanuris.

"But Muhammad kept sending emissaries to ask for my hands in marriage, and my aunt kept turning them back.

"So after the third attempt, Muhammadu became angry and mobilised some boys to pelt stones into our apartment in protest against my guardians not letting him marry me.

"Days later, I started hearing though some of his friends that he threatened that he wouldn't spare me should he lay his hands on me. He threatened that he would either beat me up or abduct me. For that reason, I became scared. I had to stop going out of our house.

"But one evening, when I ventured out to fetch water for my aunt, Muhammadu attacked me. I never knew he had been monitoring my movement.

"Muhammadu and some of his friends grabbed me and dragged me to a dark place and he forced himself on me while others were holding my hands and my legs.

"After raping me, they all left me crying on the floor and ran away. Some days later, Muhammadu called me on the phone to tell me that he knew he had left something inside me and that no matter how long it takes, he was coming back to get what belonged to him; or I will look for him to give him what belonged to him.

"He said he had fled to Lagos. It was some months later that I discovered I was pregnant."

Fatima said her love and affection vanished the moment Muhammadu's friends began to drag her, ripping off her clothes.

Betrayed Love

The teenage girl recounted how she once loved the rapist who impregnated her.

"Before he raped me, I was in love with him; but each time he came around our house, my aunt would beat me up for going out to see him. Despite the beatings from my aunt, I still loved Muhammadu, because he repeatedly told me he would make me happy and play the role of my dead parents for me. I never knew he was lying to me all the while. I never knew he is as bad as Boko Haram," she said.

Fatima had told Muhammadu how Boko Haram forced her and her stepsisters and their mother to watch them kill their father.

"I told Muhammadu all that he needed to know about my family; I told him how my mother died in an earlier attack by Boko Haram; and also told him how Boko Haram returned to attack our town; and how my father, who was hiding with us in the house, was dragged out and taken to the backyard of our home; and how the Boko Haram gunmen told him to dig his own grave after which they ordered him to lay inside the shallow grave he dug, and they shot him dead.

"I told Muhammadu how the gunmen told my little sisters and me to bury our father by covering up the grave with sand.

"We cried, but they threatened to kill us if we didn't bury him with the sand. So we tried our best to cover up the grave before they left our house. Our stepmother was sick and not mentally stable; so I had to lead them to a neighbour's house who said he too was about to leave the town and he asked us to join them. But as we waited for him to drive out his car, the Boko Haram gunmen shot him dead too."

Rampant abuse

Her guardian mother refused to accept her with her pregnancy. Hence they left the camp without her. She struggled alone with the pregnancy and delivered her son all by herself.

A women's rights activist, Hamsatu Allamin, got to hear the story of Fatima. Having listened to her story, Mrs Alamin who runs a foundation that fights for justice for women whose husbands remained missing after being arrested by soldiers as Boko Haram suspects, decided to adopt Fatima and her son.

According to Mrs Alamin, Fatima is a courageous child who dared the odds to come out and share her story.

"There are hundreds of cases of rape survivors who would rather remain silent and continue to suffer the trauma of being raped than to come out to face the shame of the society knowing that someone had raped them," she said.

Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES in Maiduguri, Mrs Allamin said she had lost count of reported cases of women, girls and especially minors who were raped.

"In the camps, the case is a pathetic situation; it happens every day, and people don't come out to say it," she said.

"It is an appalling situation in the IDP camps; people don't say it, but for us who work there and in some host communities, we do hear and witness a lot of cases of abuse, especially of young girls and minors.

"In 2014, we had to insist that males and females be separated when the first batch of IDP arrived Maiduguri because the cases of rape became so wild.

"I recall that we took the women to Yerwa Government Secondary School, where they stayed for some time. Because at that time, women and girls dared not come out even at night to ease themselves - they would be raped.

"And by the time IDPs came to overwhelm the city of Maiduguri, we had thousands of women who are either widows or spinsters and teenage as well as under-aged girls wandering the streets in a very vulnerable manner, begging for alms and offering to do anything to feed. People take advantage of them, either using money or food to seduce them or even carry out raping and other sexual abuses.

"In most of the cases, you see parents feigning ignorance to the abuses faced by their children; you see a mother who cannot stand the shame of telling the world that her child was raped by an adult or officials saddled with the responsibility of taking care of the IDPs."

Mrs Alamin recalled how a local government chairman from Northern Borno told her, most disturbingly, that at a single camp, they have over 300 pregnant women and girls and the majority of them got pregnant because they were either raped or induced to have sex.

Mrs Allamin said many unwanted babies were found abandoned in the refuse dumps or near the public toilets.

"Each time we try to find out, we discover that most of these unprepared mothers had their pregnancies as a result of being raped. We have cases of girls who said they don't want the babies because they were gang-raped; as such, they could not say who the father of the child would be.

"I have a case of a 15 years old rape survivor. The girl was one of the unaccompanied children who arrived at the camp after their community was attacked and displaced by Boko Haram.

"An officer of the Nigeria police mobile force who was working in the camp, took her into his custody, pretending to be providing for her until he impregnated her. The girl, at such a tender age, suffered from the pregnancy. She had delivered the baby, a boy, and he is almost a year old now.

"We reported the case at the state headquarters, but before the baby clocked two months, the police transferred the officer out of Borno State. We don't know where the officer is right now, but the girl is now with her child and every day she vents her anger and frustration on the poor child."

Not only girls, even adult women too

Mrs Alamin recalled the story of a woman whose brother-in-law, a Boko Haram member, killed her husband and her father-in-law and then took her two sons away to the forest.

"The woman, out of love for her children, dared all consequences and followed her children into the woods," she said.

"There, after a series of sexual abuses, one of the insurgents married her. She still did not find her children. The man who forced her to be his wife told her he knew her children were in Timbuktu forest, and he promised to bring them back to her if she would remain his wife. She obliged, and the man went to the Timbuktu and came back with the boys after spending about three weeks.

"The woman took advantage of a military raid on the camp to escape with her children to Maiduguri."

The woman underwent a series of post-trauma counselling and medical checks during which they diagnose her to be HIV positive.

"Despite her medical condition and for the fact that the lady is beautiful and one who takes care of her body, a member of the Civilian-JTF in charge of that camp, who also is HIV positive came out to say he wanted to marry her. He deceived her and got her pregnant again. After discovering that she was pregnant, the man ran and abandoned her.

"She was later taken in by the Alamin Foundation where she continued to get the supports she needed until delivered.

We have many cases of children raped, but sadly their parents won't allow them to have undue publicity because they fear the consequences that come in the form of rejection, stigma in the society."

(Support for this report was provided by Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism with funding support from Free Press Unlimited.)

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