How conflict in northeast Nigeria is destroying the childhood of young girls

Yagana’s story of strength

Harriet Dwyer
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UNICEF Nigeria/2017

17 February 2017

Banki, Nigeria, 17 February 2017: Yagana was happily attending school and living with her father in Cameroon before setting off to visit her mother over the border in Banki one day. Two days into her visit, while her mother was at work in the market, Boko Haram attacked. Separated from the adults with her neighbour’s children, confused and scared, they were led into the forest by insurgents.

“Boko Haram came, following us house to house- they said the army has come and they are burning the town so we must follow them. We could only see their eyes- their faces were covered … I come from Cameroon so I did not know where they took us.”

The insurgents kept the children in a house, teaching them from the Koran until one day Yagana was told she would be married.

“When they attacked us with violence we rejected it. We made an attempt to run away but they caught us with guns so we stayed with them. Later they convinced us to marry them.”

As well as being forced to cook and clean for her captors, Yagana suffered daily violence and was repeatedly raped by her ‘husband.’ There was little hope of escape although she continued to try to run away and each time was caught and returned to the camp.

Her resistance paid off when one day the insurgents, fearing an attack by one of planes flying overhead, fled. Yagana refused to go with her captors so she was abandoned in the forest- sick and in pain but with a faint hope of being reunited with her parents.

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UNICEF Nigeria/2017

The army eventually found Yagana who by then was unable to move. They carried her to a village with other girls who had been found and after some time they were evacuated to a camp where she was finally able to receive medical assistance.

Although Yagana is now living in relative safety life in the camp is not easy and she longs to be reunited with her parents. Fearing the worst after the first Boko Haram attack on her mother’s village Yagana is trying to find a way back to her town in Cameroon to find her father.

Somehow, despite everything that has happened to her, Yagana has managed to find some peace.

“I always think about my parents but all I have had done to me I consider an act of god. I have forgiven the men who hurt me.”

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