During the night of April 16, 2014, dozens of armed men from the jihadist group Boko Haram captured over 300 Christian girls aged 12 to 15 who were sleeping in dormitories at Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in northeast Nigeria.
Some of the kidnapped girls have been forced into “marriage” with their Boko Haram abductors, sold for a nominal bride price of $12, according to parents who talked with villagers. All of the girls risked being forced into marriages or sold in the global market for human slaves.
The kidnappings were the focus of the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ social media campaign that garnered much attention last year. What has received considerably less attention is the rescue of many of the women that had been kidnapped by the terrorist group.
Nigeria’s military said it has freed nearly 700 Boko Haram captives in the past week (though it’s still unclear how many—if any—of the “Chibok girls” were rescued). Many of the woman have begun to share stories about their horrific ordeal.
A woman named Musa was rescued from forced marriage to one of her husband’s killers:
“They took me so I can marry one of their commanders,” she said of the militants who carried her away from her village after slaughtering her husband and forcing her to abandon their three young children, whose fates remain unknown. That was five months ago in Lassa village.
“When they realized I was pregnant, they said I was impregnated by an infidel, and we have killed him. Once you deliver, within a week we will marry you to our commander,” she said, tears running down her cheeks as she recalled her husband and lost children.
Musa gave birth to a curly-haired daughter the night before last week’s rescue.
As gunshots rang out, “Boko Haram came and told us they were moving out and that we should run away with them. But we said no,” she said from a bed in the camp clinic, a blanket wrapped around ankles so swollen that each step had been agony.
“Then they started stoning us. I held my baby to my stomach and doubled over to protect her,” she said, bending reflexively at the waist as though she still had to shield her newborn.
Sixteen-year-old Binta Ibrahim was caring for three children—one 2-year-old and two 4-year-olds—she found abandoned when she was kidnapped.
“They were so weak from lack of food that they couldn’t walk. There was nothing to do but rest when I couldn’t take another step, and then press ahead when I had recovered,” she said.
The children are Christian and Ibrahim is a Muslim. While Nigeria’s northeastern Islamic insurgency has polarized many of Nigeria’s people on religious lines, that was the last thing in Ibrahim’s big heart.
“I love them as if they are my own,” she said, striking her breast with both fists to show the depth of her love for the children, who were rescued with her and still remain in her care.
Reuters has put together a slideshow of images of the rescued women and children.