Earlier this month, the Nigerian army reported that they had rescued several hundred women and children, as well as seized several weapons, from a Boko Haram stronghold. Although unable to confirm if any of the 276 Chibok girls were part of this rescue mission, this is a huge achievement for the Nigerian army.
#Bringbackourgirls started when the Chibok girls were kidnapped and there was a global uproar. Although the most publicised kidnapping was conducted by the Boko Haram, a recent report from UNICEF, Missing Childhoods, reveals the problem is a lot bigger. Currently over 800,000 children in Nigeria have been forced to leave their homes to escape this conflict with little access to health, education and other services.
Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, said in a statement:"The abduction of more than 200 girls in Chibok is only one of endless tragedies being replicated on an epic scale across Nigeria and the region. Scores of girls and boys have gone missing in Nigeria - abducted, recruited by armed groups, attacked, used as weapons, or forced to flee violence. They have the right to get their childhoods back."
It is well known that the Boko Haram intentionally targets children and subjects them to extreme violence -- from sexual abuse and forced marriage to kidnappings and brutal killings.
Despite reports of a ceasefire earlier in the year, when asked of the missing Chibok girls in a video obtained by Agence France-Presse, the group's leader Abubakar Shekau was quoted as saying,
"How normally can you live your life after witnessing these horrifying events and being subject to unspeakable violence?"
Women and girls who, in the past, have managed to escape the clutches of the Boko Haram have reported being subject to forced marriage, forced religious conversion, physical and psychological abuse, forced labour and even rape.
Many of them could not even talk about their experiences for months after they escaped. Some of them are just beginning to open up about the atrocities they suffered and perhaps will have to spend a lifetime erasing the torture they sustained.
Earlier this year, in two separate incidents, the Boko Haram sent three girls, as young as 10 years old, in the middle of crowded Nigerian markets with bombs strapped across their chests. Those bombs killed three and wounded 26 people. Later, a 7-year-old child was used as a suicide bomber. Children of all ages -- as young as 4 years old -- are used within the group's ranks as cooks, porters and look-outs. Worse, there are even reports that children have been recruited by vigilante groups fighting against the Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria.
And while the most recent group of women and girls are yet to speak out on the atrocities they endured, considering Boko Haram's track record, there is little doubt as to what they will say.
According to statistics from UNESCO, the number of children out of primary school in Nigeria increased from 8 million in 2007 to 10.5 million in 2012; the largest in any country in the world. Systematically being targeted by the Boko Haram doesn't help either -- more than 300 schools have been destroyed or severely damaged and at least 196 teachers and 314 school children have been killed from 2012-2014. Considering these statistics, how can you blame parents for not sending their children to school?
The most tragic thing about all of this is the reality of those released from Boko Haram's captivity and those still with them. I cannot help but wonder what kind of future awaits them. How normally can you live your life after witnessing these horrifying events and being subject to unspeakable violence? How normally can you grow up if you have seen your brother die, your parents being killed, witnessed your community was being slain, tortured or abducted? How do you go back to being a mother, wife, daughter and fulfilling any responsibilities laid out for you when the fear is so ingrained in your heart?
How do you silence those memories? Do they ever leave you?
The most vulnerable population in any society is, unfortunately, always the first to be targeted. Children, followed by women, are the most defenceless. For centuries, and in countless wars, crimes against women and children have always been the most heinous and the most rampant. Thousands of children will continue to witness and bear violence and continue to create a reality that is unfair and far from real. And while the women and girls rescued finally have a life away from their captors, are they really free in the true sense of the word?