By now anyone who can read or watch the evening news is aware of the kidnapping of hundreds of girls in Nigeria by the extremist Islamist group, Boko Haram. Celebrities tweeted their disgust, members of the Nigerian diaspora marched in cities around the world and politicians expressed their support for the government of Goodluck Johnathan. Much less has been written about the abduction of boys. Boko Haram routinely takes boys to be child soldiers and it is conceivable that the number of abducted boys exceeds that of the girls. Both stories are getting little airtime these days, however the practice of abducting boys and girls has been well documented in the press and byHuman Rights Watch.
I suspect Boko Haram is reveling in the notoriety. Video and photos of their leader, Abubakar Shekau mugging for the camera is reminiscent of the RUF leader Sam (Masquita) Bockerie during the Sierra Leone civil war (1992-2002). As in the case of Sierra Leone, the Boko Haram rebels have made the government of Nigeria appear inept. Suicide bombings and car bombs take lives with regularity in Nigeria and the government seems incapable of mounting any kind of meaningful response.
And what of the girls and boys who have been abducted and who are now off the front pages of the world’s newspapers? One thing for sure is that the girls weren’t taken to be ‘brides’ for rebel fighters as some early reports suggested. If Boko Haram is anything like rebel groups in Sierra Leone, Congo or Uganda, and there is no reason to believe they are different, the girls were taken for sex, cooking, and carrying. Within rebel groups, abducted girls are often passed around by boys and men for sex. If one man or boy chooses a girl as a ‘bush-wife’ she will be spared having to provide sex for the group. The result is that she becomes the property of the man or boy who takes her. Nothing romantic or bride-like at all–the girls become slaves to either the group or individual men.
Rebel leaders do this with a purpose in mind. They need bodies and they know that most children are unlikely to voluntarily enlist. Murder, rape and mayhem are against the traditional ways and local justice can be swift and unforgiving. Rebel leaders recruit by first abducting children and then ‘spoiling’ them–raping the girls and forcing the boys to commit rape and/or murder. In West Africa, girls who have been raped are often considered ‘spoiled goods’. And so it is that even if the hundreds of girls abducted by Boko Haram are able to escape, it is likely they’ll experience shame. Aljazeera reported that of 26 girls rescued from Boko Haram recently, some were pregnant and many were sent to distant villages or cities to avoid the stigma of rape.