Survivors of Boko Haram Abductions

Photos and Text by Ruth McDowall

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Text by Ruth McDowall

I am openly embraced by three young ladies running up to me, greeting me as Aunty Ruth. During five years living in northern Nigeria, I have seen many haunted faces, but these girls looked different, haunted and also broken. I wanted to photograph them looking like the strong, resilient survivors they are, but as they sat slumped in their chairs, I had the heartbreaking realization that, at such a young age, these beautiful, young people have lost their innocence and experienced the worst of humanity. They are just a few of the many youth that have been abducted by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.

Boko Haram has been rapidly increasing attacks in Northern Nigeria. Sadly, young girls and boys have now become a target. Girls are used for tactical reasons and a form of punishment to them and their communities. And hundreds of young boys have been taken to used as fighters, or to train them in the Koran. Up to 500 girls have been abducted since as far back as 2009 from the northeastern Borno and Yobe states.

They have been abducted while traveling on the roads, attending school, working on farms, and from their homes during attacks on villages. They are put through psychological abuse, forced labor, forced marriage, forced to convert to Islam, and become victims of sexual violence and rape. Boko Haram are taking young people on operations and teaching them to carry ammunition and eventually to kill; even some young girls are now being sent out as suicide bombers. Some of have been fortunate to escape however many still remain captive.

The Chibok attack on April 14, 2014 was the largest case of abductions, with 276 girls taken — 57 managed to escape. It brought the attention of the world on Nigeria, and to the atrocities carried out by Boko Haram. Escapees of the Chibok attack have received some counseling and educational scholarships however there remains a serious lack of support for girls and boys abducted before and after Chibok. They urgently need post-trauma counseling as they struggle with the memories and many no longer attend school fearing they will be kidnapped again. Many of the girls that escaped are now stigmatized, and often relocate to new towns as they are ostracized by their neighbors.

It is not uncommon for abuses against children and youth to go unprosecuted in Nigeria. A code of silence prevents justice from taking place, robbing them of their rights as the victim.

More often than not, youth bear the brunt of conflict. Young girls from northern Nigeria, historically a marginalized and devalued group, are now the same people bringing the focus of the world upon Nigeria.

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