Amnesty International: Nigeria authorities have failed  Boko Haram survivors News from España, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Amnesty International: Nigeria authorities have failed Boko Haram survivors

Nigerian authorities have failed the girls and young women who escaped Boko Haram captivity in northeastern Nigeria, according to an Amnesty International report released Sunday. Boko Haram, a violent Islamist organization based in the country’s northeastern region, has been locked in conflict with government forces for over a decade. The conflict has left a destructive path of displacement and human rights abuses through northeast Nigeria, which has resulted in a deeply-rooted humanitarian crisis.

The report, entitled “Help Us Build Our Lives”: Girl Survivors of Boko Haram and Military Abuses in North-East Nigeria collates the lived experiences of 126 escapees interviewed between 2019 and 2024 and the ongoing neglect by authorities. The report details extensive human rights abuses and numerous crimes against humanity: trafficking, abduction, forced marriage, displacement, enslavement, and sexual violence.  The horrific list is compounded by further violations in military detention. The survivors desperately need specialist reintegration support but have been left bereft by the response of authorities, Amnesty International asserts.

The girls and young women abducted by Boko Haram were often forced into marriages, despite being early adolescents. These marriages were characterized by sexual violence and domestic servitude. Women and girls faced extreme restrictions on freedom of movement and the threat of brutal punishment for breaking the rules. For most, their escape from Boko Haram did not mark the end of abuse. Those rescued by the Nigerian military or Civilian Joint Task Force were soon subject to unlawful detention and violence. According to the report, “Thirty-one girls and young women were unlawfully held in military detention for anywhere between several days and almost four years between 2015 and mid-2023, typically because of their real or perceived association to Boko Haram.” The documented experiences form part of a broader, disturbing pattern of arbitrary detention at the hands of the Nigerian military, particularly of children.

According to the report, the interviewees most value freedom through independence. Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, has said, “These girls, many of them now young women, had their childhood stolen from them and suffered a litany of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other rights abuses. They are now showing remarkable bravery as they seek to take control of their future”.

To successfully reintegrate, the survivors desperately require access to healthcare, education, and vocational training. The reality is that mental health and psychosocial services are few and far between. Further, the survivors face the stigma of being labeled a “Boko Haram wife”. According to one interviewee, “They [the host community] always abuse us. They don’t give us anything. We always feel we are a burden to them”.

Despite this, authorities continue to dodge accountability. When Amnesty International wrote to Nigeria’s federal and state authorities with its main research earlier in April, the response of the Nigerian military was a reactive denial of the credibility of survivors. The report calls on Nigerian government authorities, UN agencies, and donor governments to meet Amnesty International at the table and urgently implement tailored reintegration services.