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The road to recovery: Life after Boko Haram

UNICEF Nigeria/2018/Kubwalo
© UNICEF Nigeria/2018
Aisha* is one of the survivors of the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria.

By Kusali Nellie Kubwalo

Borno, Nigeria, 13 April 2018 - Aisha* has speech difficulties and immediately apologises that she will not be clear and that we should be patient. At 17, Aisha has been through what any girl should never go through. She was abducted three years ago, held captive for a whole year, was sexually abused and literally thrown away.

One day, in the middle of the night, her village was attacked by Boko Haram insurgents and she was abducted with a group of others. They were kept under lock and key and moved from one location to another. Her life as she knew it ended.

I was regularly raped by at least 7 men and got pregnant. I got very sick and developed complications with the pregnancy. I am told I was thrown away and was found by the military during patrols and was taken to the hospital in a wheel barrow,” she says stammering, crying and trying to be brave at the same time.

The road to recovery

Aisha was given medical treatment and after recovery was released by the military to join others who had been displaced / rescued or escaped from the insurgents. Although she got her freedom back, almost everything else she had before was gone. The baby she delivered eventually died too. She could not speak properly, could not sleep and got severe panic attacks every-time she saw a group of men. Girls like Aisha who are rescued or escape are first kept in administrative custody by the Nigerian military in Maiduguri. After being cleared of having no ties with Boko Haram, they are released to a UNICEF supported transit centre where their long road to recovery begins. At the centre, they receive psychosocial support to help them deal with the trauma.

Aisha however was taken straight to a camp for internally displaced people. Her village in Dalarge, no longer exists, it was razed to the ground, the inhabitants abducted and their food and animals looted. Displaced, Aisha now lives in Muna Garage, Maiduguri, in a camp for internally displaced people. Over 30,000 people with similar stories, displaced from the conflict live in this camp.

The happiest day of my life was reuniting with my aunt, the only mother I have ever known. When I saw her, I knew it was going to be better, “she says.

She also met many other girls and women who had gone through a similar ordeal. “This knowledge made me stronger, I decided to be strong and I even made friends,” she says.

Hope at last

Although not fully healed, Aisha is on the right path on a long road to recovery. She attends a UNICEF supported peer to peer support group where survivors of gender based violence receive psychosocial and emotional support to cope with the trauma they have been through but most importantly, a reason to smile again.

I can smile now,” she says. “I can even pass a group of men coming my way without running away or panicking.”

In north east Nigeria, abduction of girls is a frequent occurrence. Since 2013 over 1,000 children have been abducted by Boko Haram. Many, like Aisha, have witnessed, experienced and sometimes suffered physical and sexual violence. Boys have been forced to attack their families and communities while girls are held captive forced into marriage and faced extreme sexual violence, including rape and sexual assault. Girls have also been forcibly recruited and used to carry out suicide attacks.

However, despite clearly articulated humanitarian needs to support survivors of gender based violence including women and girls formerly abducted, the child protection sector has received very low funding making it hard to fully support the humanitarian needs of girls like Aisha, on their long road to recovery.

*Not her real name


Read more:

Press release: More than 1,000 children in northeastern Nigeria abducted by Boko Haram since 2013 



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