21 Nigerian School Girls Return home after two years in captivity

Hira Rahman - 1A Nanotechnology
Posted on: October 22, 2016

In April 2014, 276 female students of the Government Secondary School Chibok were kidnapped by Boko Haram from their hostel. The mass abduction immediately received international attention and the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign was launched in response.

On October 13, 2016, 21 of the Chibok school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram were released and reunited with their families. Negotiations between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government began after the group released a video showing dozens of the girls. In the video, a masked man thought to be the successor to Abubaker Shekau (the leader of Boko Haram) offers to trade the captives in exchange for the release of their jailed fighters. The International Red Cross and the Swiss Government were also included in the negotiations.

Following their release, the girls and their families were hosted by the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, at the Presidential Villa in Abuja. The President also stated that “The Federal Government will rehabilitate them, and ensure that their reintegration back to society is done as quickly as possible”. The government is also assuming the responsibility for their personal, educational and professional goals and the girls will be given medical, nutritional and psychological care and support.

Unfortunately for the girls, their trauma does not end with their release, since they are not trusted by their community. As a result of the fear and hatred towards Boko Haram, the Chibok townspeople fear that the former captives may be under the influence of Boko Haram and could attack the community. Additionally, the girls have become a target of hate due to the cultural stigma surrounding sexual violence. The girls are often called “Boko Haram wives”, harassed and sometimes even beaten. In an attempt to make the communities more accepting of the former captives, International Alert, UNICEF Nigeria and other local groups and helping the girls form support groups.

Immediately after the kidnapping, Shekau stated that the schoolgirls were kidnapped to be sold into slavery. However, since the incident has brought major media attention, the militant group has used their political value to negotiate prisoner exchanges with the Nigerian Government. A total of 57 schoolgirls managed to escape in the months following their initial capture. In May 2016, one of the missing girls, Amina Ali, claimed that most of the remaining girls were still alive, although six had died.

At the moment, the Nigerian government is negotiating the release of 83 of the remaining 219 schoolgirls; however, previous negotiators in failed talks have stated that more that 100 of the girls appear unwilling to leave Boko Haram. The likely explanation for this is that they may be ashamed to return home after being forced to marry the fighters and bear their children.

For the time being, Boko Haram has been significantly weakened and is divided. It is likely that they will continue to expend their political capital in an attempt to strengthen their army. As more girls get released, they will inevitably require psychological and social support to help them recover from the trauma they endured while in captivity.