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Release of Chibok Girls from Boko Haram Terrorist Group Celebrated as Victory for Negotiation in Nigeria

The other abducted Chibok girls are still alive and were not harmed during bombing raids

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FILE - One of the freed Chibok girls celebrates with family members during a church service in Abuja, Nigeria, Oct. 16, 2016. VOA
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October 29, 2016: Comfort Amos is one of the 21 girls released from the grips of militant group Boko Haram last week in Nigeria, after being held hostage for nearly two and a half years.

When her father, known simply as Amos, saw her after the ordeal, he couldn’t believe his eyes. “Oh my daughter, you are still alive! I wasn’t optimistic about the possibility of seeing you again,” he told VOA Hausa Service, recounting his first words to his daughter.

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Amos said he had lots of questions for Comfort about her treatment, and she assured him that she was not abused or forced to marry any of her abductors. She said the girls had adequate food until recently when there were shortages.

She also said, contrary to some published reports, the other abducted Chibok girls are still alive and were not harmed during bombing raids. Those selected to be released were done so practically at random.

FILE - Family members of the Nigerian Chibok kidnapped girls share a moment as they depart to the Nigerian minister of women affairs in Abuja, Nigeria, Oct. 18, 2016. VOA
FILE – Family members of the Nigerian Chibok kidnapped girls share a moment as they depart to the Nigerian minister of women affairs in Abuja, Nigeria, Oct. 18, 2016. VOA

“They were called and asked to form a line, and after a number of them were counted, it was stopped,” Amos said. “Fortunately for her, she was among those released. They were told that the total of girls to be released was 21 and that by the grace of God, the rest would be released later.”

Boko Haram’s abduction of more than 200 girls from Chibok, an area located in the Borno state of northeast Nigeria, garnered global outrage, including a call for action by U.S. first lady Michelle Obama. The inability to rescue the girls became a campaign issue, and helped propel President Muhammadu Buhari to victory over former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Yakubu Nkeki, chairman of Abducted Chibok Girls’ Parents Association, told VOA that he believes the ordeal is finally taking a positive turn after so much frustration. Nkeki’s daughter is still being held captive.

“Even though my daughter was not among those released, I am happy seeing those children,” he said. “As the chairman, even if one girl is released, I will join other parents in celebration for that would mean that God has started answering my prayers for all of them. And so I am optimistic that my daughter will be released if she is alive, as there is no reason why she would not be. The way the government pushes for their release now makes us optimistic.”

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Negotiations with Boko Haram

The government’s negotiations with Boko Haram have been both secretive and controversial. After taking office in 2015, Buhari signaled a willingness to negotiate with the group if a “credible leader” could be identified.

FILE - Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and other officials meet with the 21 Chibok girls released by Boko Haram militants at the DSS Hospital in Abuja, Oct. 13, 2016. VOA
FILE – Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and other officials meet with the 21 Chibok girls released by Boko Haram militants at the DSS Hospital in Abuja, Oct. 13, 2016. VOA

During last month’s U.N. General Assembly in New York, Buhari expressed frustration over not knowing who, in fact, led the terror group and could be counted on to uphold the other end of a bargain.

Nigeria’s Information Minister Lai Mohammed said he believes the release of the 21 girls is the first step in a deal to release all of the girls, but he declined to give details of the terms of negotiations.

“Already we are on phase two and we are already in discussion,” Mohammed told Reuters. “But of course these are very delicate negotiations. There are some promises that we made also about the confidentiality of the entire exercise, and we intend to keep them.”

Alex Thurston, a scholar of Islam and politics at Georgetown University’s African Studies Program, has followed the ordeal and believes negotiations with the group are appropriate if done correctly.

“There have been at least two major incidents where ransoms were paid before, so there is a precedent for negotiating with Boko Haram in a very limited way,” he said. “But the Nigerian government has tried in the past to open up a broader kind of dialogue and, for me, I think that those attempts — even though they said all of them ended in failure — I think it would be worth it to keep trying [that approach] to see what might happen.”

Details unknown

It is unknown whether the latest captives’ release was part of a prisoner exchange, ransom payment or some other deal.

Thurston acknowledges the moral ambiguity of negotiating with terror groups and the argument that it could offer an incentive for Boko Haram to make future abductions.

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He also believes, however, that if negotiating with the group could bring an end to the insurgency that has decimated the northeast of the country and displaced over two million people, it is worth exploring.

“I think that at some point, there’s going to need to be some kind of a political settlement to this conflict,” Thurston said. “Maybe the diehards in Boko Haram are so far beyond whatever the Nigerian government might say that it wouldn’t be possible, but I do believe there must be elements and segments of Boko Haram that might be persuaded to lay down arms under some kind of political settlement.” (VOA)

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Despite Stigma, Nigerian Parents Demand Justice in Child Sex Cases

All are new cases of suspected child abuse, according to Dr. Musa Shuaibu, a pediatrician

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Child Sex Cases
Mercy Philip (left) with her 8-year-old daughter (right in white) meet with a lawyer in northern Nigeria. VOA

Mercy Philip will never forget January 12, 2017.

That’s the day she says her 8-year-old daughter walked up to her and asked if she could wash her panties.

Philip asked her daughter why she needed to wash her panties and her daughter said a male neighbor had “climbed on her body” and then told her to wash her panties afterward.

The mother immediately took her daughter to a clinic. And on the same day, Philip and her husband went to the police. The neighbor, who was arrested based on the medical report, was released from jail and is awaiting trial.

ALSO READ: Number of Girls born alive for every 1,000 Boys declined over last 65 years from 946 to 887

Yet the family’s life has been upended.

They have been ridiculed by people in the community, pressured to drop the charges, and condemned for “trying to ruin a man’s life,” Philip said. When her daughter goes outside, people stare, laugh or throw stones at her, the mother said.

Social stigma

The shame and social stigma attached to sexual abuse stop most families in Nigeria from seeking justice. They usually end up settling cases of child sex abuse through cash payments often quietly negotiated by religious leaders.

“To settle means to forget about it … let sleeping dogs lie,” said Bukola Ajao, the Philips’ lawyer. “Please, we are sorry, but this kind of matter is not something that you just apologize for.”

The most recent data available on child sex abuse in Nigeria is from 2014. That study — from Nigeria’s National Population Commission, the U.N. Children’s Fund and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — revealed that 1-in-4 girls and 1-in-10 boys in Nigeria experience sexual violence before the age of 18.

child sex cases
Doctors at Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital at Kaduna State University say they see abused children on a daily basis. VOA

ALSO READ: Ghana Chooses Girls Over Brides, Launches ‘End Child Marriage’ Campaign

The Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital at Kaduna State University in the Kaduna state capital handles requests to provide evidence for suspected child sex abuse. At the time VOA visited the hospital, in the space of 30 minutes, more than five women with children had entered the ward.

All are new cases of suspected child abuse, according to Dr. Musa Shuaibu, a pediatrician.

“Nearly on a daily basis, there would be one form of abuse or the other. And that is quite alarming in view of the fact that quite a negligible fraction, actually get reported to the hospital,” Shuaibu said.

Activists seek new law

Activists are lobbying Kaduna state to approve the federal Child Rights Act of 2003 that mandates a 14-year jail sentence for a child sex abuse conviction and life imprisonment for rape. Eleven states in the north, including Kaduna, have not ratified it. Instead, those states rely on Sharia courts and a colonial-era penal code to prosecute child sex abuse.

Kaduna State Minister of Women and Social Development Hajia Hafsatu Mohammed Baba told VOA the state government is committed to passing it. But the Supreme Sharia Council has said that the federal statute is a Western import and an attempt to restrict Sharia courts.

Meanwhile, families are often left with only difficult choices.

“You know how things are around here. Things like this can never be buried,” said Asabe Musa, whose daughter was molested when she was 5 years old. “This is the kind of story that goes around … maybe when the girl does find someone to marry, someone will go and tell his family what happened to her.”

After hearing about the abuse, relatives of Musa’s husband, who live in northern Nigeria, traveled to Kaduna to speak with Musa about settling the case. Afterwards, they took the child with them, hoping that she would be less stigmatized in a community where she is unknown.

Musa, whose face is lined with sorrow, said she wants her daughter back.

Few go to court

At one orphanage in the center of town, children dance around together in a circle. A slender young woman clenches the hand of her little girl. The woman, who asked to be identified as Ladi, said she can’t go to court as it was her father who raped her young daughter.

“My daughter was covered in blood. I picked her up and just stood there. He was someone I had always respected, so I didn’t say anything to him. I picked her up and went to town with her in the morning,” she said.

She has been running ever since. Going back to her village is not an option, she said, as her father is a chief there.

For the past decade, Hauwa Hassan, the owner, and manager of the orphanage has worked with about 20 families dealing with child sex abuse. She says only three of them took her advice to go to court. Those cases were never concluded.

ALSO READ: International Girl Child Day: Celebrating Birth of a Girl Child

child sex cases
A fruit seller is serving a 3-year jail sentence for luring this 7-year-old orphan into his shop and sexually abusing him. VOA

One 7-year-old orphan said he was walking to school when an old fruit seller offered a pear to lure the boy into the back of his shop. The abuse went on until the boy complained to his uncle about pains in his body.

“When it happened, the first thing we did has we stopped him from going out and even from school and kept him at home,” the boy’s uncle, Anas Umar, said, blinking hard to stop the tears.

“I wrote the police statement myself. A lot of my friends first suggested we all go and beat him up, but I didn’t because of what could follow. I can’t take the law into my own hands… I can’t just go and take his sins upon myself,” he added. “Other people were telling me to just leave the matter because the man is too old, but what he did was serious…The judgment passed was not enough, but still, I thank God there was some sort of judgment.”

The court found the fruit seller guilty under a colonial-era sodomy law. He couldn’t pay the 80,000 naira — about $200 — fine so he is serving a 3-year jail sentence.

“That is what he deserved. That will scare others like him,” Umar said. “The judgment passed was not enough but still, I thank God there was some sort of judgment.” (VOA)