Two weeks ago, more than 200 girls were kidnapped from their school in northeastern Nigeria. While a few were able to escape during the initial kidnapping and others managed to sneak away in the subsequent weeks, the vast majority remain in captivity. Now, reports from residents in the area suggest that the girls have been forced to marry their captors in mass marriages, and that they've been taken across the border from Nigeria to Chad and Cameroon, says the Daily Trust, a Nigerian newspaper.
On April 14, 234 girls were kidnapped from their school near Chibok, Nigeria, by a group of men—thought to be members of the militant group Boko Haram—and taken into the Sambisa forest, a game preserve-turned-militant hideout. According to Deborah Sanya, one of the girls who managed to escape, the men arrived at their school dressed as the Nigerian military and ordered them onto trucks, reports Alexis Okeowo for the New Yorker. “They told the girls that they were there to take them to safety.“
Though the military and local residents have been looking for the girls, says the Guardian, they've had no luck getting them back:
"We are trying, but our efforts are being countered in a way that it is very clear they are being tipped off about our movements. Any time we make a plan to rescue [the girls] we have been ambushed," said an artillery soldier among a rescue team announced by presidential decree over the weekend. In one clash, he said, 15 soldiers were killed by the insurgents.
Talking to the Daily Trust, Pogu Bitrus, the leader of the Chibok Elders Forum, said: "So many sources have informed us that the girls have been taken to Cameroon. Many villagers said they saw the girls being transported in trucks and then in canoes.”
On Sunday they were taken to Dikwa area where they (Boko Haram) have a camp there. From there they took them to Marte, then Monguno before they were finally ferried in canoes. It was yesterday we got this latest report of them being married off to the insurgents by their captors.
The Guardian, speaking to different sources, says the same:
Reports of the mass marriage came from a group that meets at dawn each day not far from the charred remains of the school. The ragtag gathering of fathers, uncles, cousins and nephews pool money for fuel before venturing unarmed into the thick forest, or into border towns that the militants have terrorised for months.
On Sunday, the searchers were told that the students had been divided into at least three groups, according to farmers and villagers who had seen truckloads of girls moving around the area. One farmer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the insurgents had paid leaders dowries and fired celebratory gunshots for several minutes after conducting mass wedding ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday.
In the past year alone more than 1,500 deaths have been attributed to Boko Haram, says the BBC. Worries about how the girls will be treated at not at all unfounded, either, they say:
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau first threatened to treat captured women and girls as slaves in a video released in May 2013.
It fuelled concern at the time that the group is adhering to the ancient Islamic belief that women captured during war are slaves with whom their "masters" can have sex, correspondents say.