Day 6

#BringBackOurGirls, two years later: Why the girls who escaped aren't welcome at home

Two years have passed since Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria. But the majority of the girls from Chibok are still missing — and those who do escape find little comfort in their home communities. Brent speaks to Doune Porter of Unicef Nigeria about the stigma they face when they return home.
Girls watch soldiers from Niger and Chad in the recently retaken town of Damasak, Nigeria, in March 2015. (Emmanuel Braun/Reuters)

It's been two years since Boko Haram's high-profile kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria.

The case was met with international condemnation and sparked #BringBackOurGirls, a now-infamous hashtag that was shared four million times and championed by high-profile politicians and celebrities including British Prime Minister David Cameron, Michelle Obama and Kim Kardashian.

A protester addresses the 'Bring Back Our Girls' protest group. (Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)

It shone a spotlight on the Nigerian government's brutal conflict with Boko Haram, a conflict that has displaced more than 2.6 million people and claimed at least 20,000 lives since 2009.

In recent months, Boko Haram has been losing territory to the Nigerian government, making it possible for some girls to flee. But the majority of the schoolgirls from Chibok remain missing. 

Tragically, when they come back, a lot of them are met with suspicion and fear.- Doune Porter, Chief of Communication for Unicef Nigeria

According to a recent human rights report from Unicef and International Alert, young girls and children who do manage to escape from Boko Haram often find cold comfort in their home communities, where they are greeted with mistrust and even fear. 

Doune Porter, the Chief of Communication for Unicef Nigeria, has seen that stigma firsthand in Nigeria's internal displacement camps. According to Porter, the families of the girls — some as young as 12 when they were abducted — fear the children have been indoctrinated or brainwashed by Boko Haram.

"Tragically, when they come back, a lot of them are met with suspicion and fear," she says.

The majority of the Chibok schoolgirls who were kidnapped two years ago are still missing. (Stefan Heunis/AFP/Getty)

Babies born of sexual violence by Boko Haram also face serious stigma, seen as having "bad blood."

We're talking about babies here, so it's very, very tragic.- Doune Porter, Chief of Communication for Unicef Nigeria

"There's a very strong sense in Nigeria that the blood of the father has a strong influence on the child," says Porter. "A lot of communities are fearful that when they grow up, they will turn against their communities. We're talking about babies here, so it's very, very tragic."

Porter says the stigma against so-called "Boko Haram wives" has been further exacerbated in recent months by the terror organization's calculated use of young children, especially girls, in suicide bombing attacks.

Girls who manage to escape from Boko Haram captivity face significant challenges reintegrating into their home communities. (Stefan Heunis/AFP/Getty)

This week, a video surfaced that appeared to depict 15 of the girls from Chibok, suggesting that at least some of the girls are still alive. But little is known about the health or possible whereabouts of the more than 200 girls who have yet to be rescued.

In all, more than 2,000 women and girls have been abducted by Boko Haram since 2012, many of them forced to marry Boko Haram fighters and subjected to horrific sexual violence and slavery.