CNN has recently spread a video in which Boko Haram shows some of the students who were kidnapped in Chibok (Nigeria). A drowsy international community is thus reminded about the tragedy of hundreds of young women snatched from their homes and reduced to slavery. Moreover, the tragedy of kidnappings did not stop two years ago, its blind violence keeps coming back. Yet, whereas the fate of the Chibok captives is still a mystery, the same cannot be said of the stories of dozens of women and teenagers who escaped or have been freed from the hell of jihad. Once they return to their villages, they do not only have to come to terms with the trauma of imprisonment, but often have to deal with the fact that their family members disown them.
Their kidnapping becomes a mark of shame, as if it were the victims’ fault, not of the perpetrators. If they are pregnant, probably as a consequence of having been raped, or if they have given birth in while in captivity, rejection is almost an automatic process. Their babies are called “hyenas among dogs” and it is forbidden to them to socialize with other children. A slap in the face of humanity, which has been recently mentioned by Marco Simonetti in an interview with Adnkronos. Simonetti works for International Alert, an association that strives to give a future to these young women through a difficult process of social reintegration.
“In the IDP camps where we work, these girls are called ‘the wives of Boko Haram’. Other women do not want to wash clothes together with them, people are afraid that they might have been radicalized, that they might become violent,” – Simonetti explained, recalling some cases of young women who were transformed into suicide bombers by the terrorists.
The sexual violence they have suffered, as already mentioned, becomes a source of dishonor for their family of origin. A tragedy inside another tragedy. “Some husbands – he said – especially if the wedding was a recent one, do not want to take their wives back.” Often, “mothers-in-law push their sons to repudiate their daughters-in-law, or the other wives, in the case of Islamic families”. It can be hard also for the parents to accept their daughters who are “considered to be fallen women in this traditional context”, suspected of having become accomplices of the terrorists who might have killed other family members. And the stigma is even more serious when there are children they had from the terrorists after rape. “These children are rejected by the entire community – Simonetti says – they call them ‘hyenas among dogs’ and say they have bad blood like their terrorist fathers, people are afraid they might attack their children, like hyenas do when they come across dogs”.
The only way to deal with this tragedy is to seek the path of reconciliation of these girls with their communities. International Alert organized groups where these young women tell their stories, assisted by specially trained operators from local volunteer associations.
But, as Simonetti points out, there are also “dialogue sessions with local communities, Christian priests and Muslim imams, traditional leaders, so as to make them spread a message of reconciliation and acceptance. We have developed a manual on reconciliation methods compatible with the Koran and with local traditions, we promote debates on local radio, and we are trying to lead the local context towards acceptance.”
Thanks to this NGO, 160 women and girls victims of Boko Haram kidnappings have had the chance to tell their own tragic experience in a protected space, in four IDP camps in Maiduguri, capital of the northeastern Nigerian State of Borno. In the same sites, over 200 people partook in dialogue sessions on trauma. To allow these girls to start life anew after the nightmare.