"I just wanted a way out," Boko Haram "wife" recalls

Thousands of women kidnapped by Boko Haram are being used as sex slaves, servants or suicide bombers. One of them recalls her life of pain and fear in the clutches of the terrorist group.

Aisha Moussa, 15, wipes away tears as she recalls her forced marriage to a Boko Haram fighter.

"The man who forced me to marry him was big, and in his early 30s,” the Nigerian girl explains at Minawao refugee camp in neighbouring Cameroon, where she arrived in January after escaping the clutches of the Islamist terrorist group.

"When I tried to resist his first rape attempt, he pulled out a knife and threatened to stab me. When I still didn't give in, he pulled out a gun. I was afraid and allowed him to have his way. He raped me every night. It was so painful I cried every time."

Human rights groups say thousands of women and girls have been kidnapped by Boko Haram, which is estimated to have killed more than 14,000 people in Nigeria and neighbouring countries since 2009 in its bloody campaign to create a radical Islamic state.

UN officials say up to 7,000 women and girls have been abducted in north-eastern Nigeria. The best-known among them are more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped in the town of Chibok two years ago. Their plight sparked international outrage, but their fate remains unknown.

Girls and women abducted by Boko Haram are reportedly used as sex slaves, servants, to transport bombs, and as suicide bombers. The UN children's fund UNICEF said the number of children used in suicide bombings rose from four in 2014 to 44 in 2015 in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad. Three-quarters of the bombers are estimated to be girls.

Abducted in the village of Gulak in Nigeria's north-eastern Adamawa state in February 2014, Aisha stayed for 10 months in Sambisa Forest, a Boko Haram stronghold in neighbouring Borno state.

Because she was a Christian, the girl says, she was buried in the ground up to her waist for 20 days - the length of time it took her to convert to Islam.

She was then forced to marry one of the Boko Haram fighters. She says girls as young as 8 suffered the same fate. Every day, the girls lived in fear of their "husbands" returning in the evening, Aisha says.

In addition to the men, the girls were terrified of air strikes by the Nigerian army targeting Boko Haram. "There were always bombs and bullets dropping like rain from the sky."

Aisha finally regained her freedom when her captor husband left Boko Haram.

He told her he was "sick and tired" of constantly fighting for a group which did not feed its members properly. "He told me: 'I will escape and leave you here.'"

Terrified of having to stay on in the forest, Aisha told the man she loved him and begged to come with him. "I just wanted a way out," she says.

The two made their escape at night. After trekking for 10 days, they reached Mora in Cameroon, where soldiers arrested Aisha’s companion.

The girl was taken to Minawao, a refugee camp hosting tens of thousands of people who have fled the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. But her ordeal did not end there.

Instead of being treated as a victim, she was branded a "Boko Haram wife" and "Sambisa woman.”

"If I go to fetch water or collect wood, people scowl and move away as if I had some contagious disease."

Even the local security forces are suspicious of girls like Aisha.

"You can't totally trust them," said an army captain who did not want to be named, expressing suspicion that they could have been brainwashed and might spread Islamist propaganda.

Girls like Aisha staying in Minawao are hoping to be claimed by their families. But if that does not happen, once they are repatriated to Nigeria, they fear they could face an uncertain fate.

Aisha is haunted by the thought that her family back in Gulak may have been killed by the radicals. "That is what is silently killing me now."

Last update: Fri, 13/05/2016 - 12:02

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