An assessment by International Alert and UNICEF Nigeria has revealed widespread mistrust and persecution of women and girls returning from captivity by Nigeria's insurgent group, Jamāʻat Ahl as-Sunnah lid-daʻwa wal-Jihād (JAS), commonly known as Boko Haram.
The findings were announced at a high-level workshop in the Nigerian capital of Abuja on Thursday 10 December 2015. The event was attended by several dignitaries, including government officials, federal and state representatives, local and international civil society organisations, donors, journalists and academics.
The assessment was conducted in four internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Maiduguri Metropolitan Council, Borno state capital, over 10 days in October, with funding from the government of Japan, and will be published next month.
Dr Ferdinand Ikwang, National Coordinator for the de-radicalisation programme in the Nigerian Office of the National Security Adviser hailed the research as timely and necessary. "I would like to thank International Alert and UNICEF for conducting this research," he said.
For his part, Daniel Obof, Assistant Director of the National Emergency Management Agency said the research was a reminder "for us to focus on children specifically".
At least 2,000 women and girls have been abducted by JAS since 2012, including more than 200 girls last year from their secondary school in Chibok in Borno state. Many of them have been forced into sexual slavery or sometimes trained to fight or encouraged to become suicide bombers.
However, as rescue efforts continue by the Nigerian government and military, and many of the survivors are returning home, service provision for them, the community perceptions of them and children born out of sexual violence by JAS, and their desires for integration and relocation, are proving difficult, according to the assessment.
Community respondents from local government areas including Bama, Gwoza, Dikwa and Damboa view returnees as possessing JAS juju (evil spirits) and the children as 'hyenas among dogs' – conveying the fear that they have been radicalised.
The assessment findings, which will be published in January, are part of a wider project aimed at reducing stigma against women, girls and children, and preparing communities for their reintegration.
The project will be implemented by International Alert and UNICEF Nigeria, and run through 1 April 2016 in northeast Nigeria.
Photo: Courtesy of STARS/Kristian Buus under Creative Commons