Last week the Nigerian government announced that 82 of the nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok that were kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram in April of 2014 had been released in exchange for five Boko Haram commanders. The kidnapping has been an ongoing subject of public concern, prompting the massive #BringBackOurGirls movement on social media.
The release, negotiated by the Swiss government and the Red Cross, is the largest yet following the 21 girls who regained their freedom last year. However, families say that over 100 of the girls are still missing.
Many parents wait anxiously as the names of the girls have not yet been released. Family reunions are still underway as the girls remain in the capital of Nigeria, Abuja, following a meeting with its President Muhammadu Buhari last Sunday.
Originally 83 girls were to be released, but one young woman chose to stay with her husband that she had married while captive, feeding into the ongoing concern about the reproductive health and autonomy of these women.
Unfortunately, the return home does not necessarily mean immediate relief for the girls. The road to recovery after enduring such trauma must include extensive medical attention, counseling, and rehabilitation, which the President has promised.
In addition, reintegration will be difficult after spending so long in captivity, especially as they are entering a society that has shunned Boko Haram escapees in the past, particularly those that were pregnant or had been forced to have children as a result of rape.
“During their captivity, lasting in many cases for months or even years, women and girls have been sexually enslaved, raped and forced into so-called ‘marriages,’” explained a UN representative during a special session on Boko Haram last year. “Many survivors of these horrific experiences are now pregnant by their rapists…and several reportedly wish to terminate these unwanted pregnancies.”
On Monday President Trump’s expansion of the deadly Global Gag Rule went into effect, officially banning any non-governmental organization that receives any type of American global health funding from providing or distributing information about abortions, even using funding from non-US government sources. This means that women around the globe, including those escaping sexual slavery and forced marriage, will lose access to HIV/AIDS treatment, maternal healthcare, counseling, and of course, abortion care.
Boko Haram is known for abducting women and girls, many of whom are forced to either become suicide bombers or suffer rape, enslavement, forced marriage, and sexual violence. The 2014 kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls was an extreme form of backlash against educating women; the name Boko Haram translate roughly into “Western education is a sin.”
Media Resources: The Guardian 5/7/2017; Vice 5/8/2017; The New York Times 5/6/2017; Teen Vogue 5/10/2017; Feminist Majority Foundation 10/17/2017, 8/16/2017, 5/2/2016, 2/22/17; CBS 5/10/2017; Newsweek 5/9/2017