There is never an excuse for having a child’s life taken away by war – to have them stumble into what they believed was a safe haven, only to have it become another desolate form of hell. That, however, is exactly what happened to a young girl named Falmata, who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram fighters when she was in primary school.
She spent three years as their prisoner, was married twice to fighters, was raped countless times, was impregnated and delivered a child who died shortly after birth, and escaped the camp in which she was being held. She found her way into a camp for victims of the war, but as soon as she found what she thought was safety, soldiers would line up to rape her once more. “They did it one after another,” Falmata says. “I’m not even sure those two knew about each other.”
Falmata is one of an endless number of women and girls in refugee camps designed to safeguard those fleeing the death and destruction wreaked by Boko Haram. Although having existed since the 1990s, the group first came into widespread attention in 2009. Since then, Boko Haram has only grown, engaging in several terrorist attacks that often leave high numbers of casualties.
Boko Haram’s standoffs with the military have only increased the numbers of casualties and refugees, especially women. As a result, there are camps dispersed all across the affected states filled with refugees looking to rebuild their lives. But conditions didn’t improve – there are countless accounts of sexual assault coming from the camps.
“The soldiers would come and hold me so tight,” a 13-year-old recounts of her time in a camp in Maiduguri, a central city in the fight against Boko Haram. “They were old enough to be my parents.” Before escaping for her own safety, she says she had been raped about 10 times, a number that is shockingly common among the women trapped in such places. These girls are forced to trade sex for even the most mundane of things.
In Teachers Village, one of such camps, it’s reported that the troops choose who they want to rape by asking them to cook before committing the heinous act. Hadiza, an 18-year old who’d been trapped at Teachers Village, was one of such women. After having cooked for four officers, she was dragged into a separate room by one of them and raped repeatedly. She became injured in the process, but was too scared to report it should it cause her more trouble.
It happens again and again. “Once they identified you as a girl they wanted to have sex with, they would hardly leave you alone a single day,” Hadiza says, estimating that she was raped over 20 times in the camp before a distant relatives came and took her away.
After hearing of such reports, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari called for a concrete investigation into the camps, taking new measures to prevent any more sexual assaults in these areas. Troops are now being given more training, and female troops are being stationed at the camps as well. The measures seem to be working; according to the police, the number of sexual assault has lessened.
Despite the promising measures, there is no way to completely stem the flow of desolation coming from the camps unless the fight against Boko Haram can be ended for good. An end would not only benefit the refugees in the camp, but would also benefit those fighting Boko Haram.
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