The cheeks bathed in tears, 18-year-old Ummi Hassan, has her eyes riveted on her swollen belly. Like so many other poor girls in northeastern Nigeria, she was abandoned by the father of her future child: a soldier sent to the front to fight BokoHaram.
“I was in love with a soldier who got me pregnant and was redeployed when I was two months pregnant,” the girl said on a recent trip to Maiduguri, a large northeastern city and the cradle of the Nigerian jihadist movement BokoHaram. At first, Ummi kept in touch with her boyfriend, now based in the economic capital, Lagos, hoping that he would eventually accept their child. Her dream flew on the day the soldier “swore at her every bit”, tired that she continues to insist that he take charge of the prenatal expenses. “I have nothing to eat, I only eat what my friends give me,” says Ummi, adjusting the red dress falling on his ankles.
Kaltime Ari is also only 18 years old, and she is already mom of an infant a few months after a similar adventure with a soldier, who tried to force her to abort. “He gave me money for abortion, I had the feeling that I would die if I tried to abort, so I gave up,” she said. She’s been alone since the fourth month of pregnancy. “I do not know where he is now … His phone is not reachable,” she said, her child on her lap.
“Hordes” of poor girls have been seduced by bills and promises of marriage by soldiers sent to the front, deplores Ahmed Bolori, coordinator of the Fa’ash Foundation which helps non-working young people.
” People are hungry ”
In late October, HumanRights Watch accused Nigerian officials of raping women in displaced persons camps in northeastern Nigeria, urging the authorities to investigate the allegations. The NGO had identified 43 women and girls sexually abused by camp leaders, members of self-defense militias, policemen and soldiers in Maiduguri.
In seven years of conflict, 20,000 people have been killed and 2.6 million people displaced. Agriculture and trade, which is largely dependent on the local economy, have been severely impacted by the violence that has driven villages out of the rural population. The capital of the state of Borno, whose population has doubled since the beginning of the conflict, is today drowned under the flood of displaced people. “People are hungry in Maiduguri and they have no money to buy food,” Kaltime Ari said. “Many young women like me end up sleeping with soldiers and getting pregnant, because they have the money to spend.”
Born two years ago, little Umar never saw his father, says Amina Mohammed. The 20-year-old mother, however, tried to find her boyfriend in the town where he was assigned, 37 km from Maiduguri. “His colleague took me to Konduga to see him, but over there I was told that he had been redeployed to Gwoza, 90 km away,” she explains, a distance that no one in Borno would run the risk of traveling, given Boko Haram’s continuing threat of kidnapping thousands of young women into combatants or sexual slaves.
” Really undesirable ”
For his part, Ummi Hassan even went to knock at the door of the military hierarchy asking them to intervene and to force her boyfriend to take his responsibilities. “I went to his superiors (…) and they said they did not want to get involved,” said Ummi, who at a time thought of bringing the case before a court and later gave up. Some admit they do not know where to get redress and have finally accepted what they imagine to be their “destiny.”
“The victims are invariably poor, hungry and uneducated, making them perfect prey for soldiers,” said humanitarian official Ahmed Bolori. “Impunity also encourages the perpetrators.”
Ummi Hassan and Kaltime Ari were expelled from their homes when their parents discovered they were pregnant. In northern Muslim and conservative Nigeria, having a child outside marriage is a disgrace to the family and girls are rejected. “In our culture, unwanted pregnancies are really undesirable,” says Bolori. “The risk is that the children born of these sexual victims become more dangerous than Boko Haram if we discriminate against them.”