#BringBackOurGirls

In April of 2014, approximately 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by extremist group Boko Haram. Global outrage was expressed in an international campaign rallied around the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

In mid-October of this year, 21 of the girls from that mass kidnapping were released. Nigerian government was in talks with Boko Haram for the release of about 83 of the remaining girls . Boko Haram described their release of the 21 girls as “a goodwill gesture." Though this wasn’t a direct result of the negotiations, it was the first time negotiations were in the works.

This is joyous news for those girls and their families, but their release brought unfortunate updates on the circumstances of the remaining captives. Around 100 of the remaining captives are thought to be unwilling to leave Boko Haram. Though some of these girls may not wish to return because they have been radicalized, others may fear the treatment they would face in coming back home.

*Oludolapo Osinbajo, wife of Nigerian vice-president, hugs one of the 21 released girls.

Mausi Segun, Nigerian researcher for Human Rights Watch, says that conservative Nigerian communities tend to have negative reactions to anyone associated with Boko Haram, even if it was from circumstances beyond their control. Segun described the reaction of these communities as a backlash. The kidnapped girls are aware of this, and may not want to return home knowing their former communities, and potentially their families, will reject them.

Although reports vary in all aspects of the kidnapping, it is believed that no more than 57 of the girls managed to escape over the next few months. When they returned to Chibok, they faced taunts and insults because they were labelled Boko Haram wives.

In the Nigeria for Human Rights Watch group, researchers are concerned that this reaction might be complicating negotiations for further releases, and exacerbating victims’ trauma. In order to help with this, many of the released girls are given the option to resettle somewhere away from their families and previous communities.

It seems unlikely that any of the released girls were actually Boko Haram wives. The girls said they were divided into two groups upon their arrival, when they chose between embracing Islam or becoming slaves. Those who chose Islam have not been seen by the other girls since their division. Only one of the returning girls had a child with her, and her parents have confirmed that she was pregnant before the kidnapping in 2014.

Though the girls are most likely not Boko Haram wives or sexually abused, they may still face the stigma and taunting attached to these labels. Based on accounts of the girls’ reunions with their families, it appears they have all been welcomed back. However, the Nigeria for Human Rights Watch group finds it better for these girls to be out of the community, or the country if possible.

*Some mothers of the kidnapped girls weep outside the secondary school the girls were attending when they were kidnapped.

“We would prefer that they are taken away from the community and this country because the stigmatization is going to affect them for the rest of their lives,” one member of the organization stated. “Even someone believed to have been abused by Boko Haram would be seen in a bad light.”

The capture of these girls is of course a traumatic event, but it is perhaps worse that they are likely to face maltreatment on their release due to the stigma of Boko Haram wives. There is no easy answer to preventing this unfortunate treatment; the best current solution is for the girls to relocate. After two and a half years of trauma in their Boko Haram kidnapping and captivity, the girls will suffer even if they were in a perfect world returning to their families and a welcoming community. The relocation effort has been led by Nigeria for Human Rights Watch group. At least 20 girls are currently studying in the U.S.

It is hoped that all of the girls who are willing to leave Boko Haram will eventually be released. I hope by that time, those girls will feel welcomed in their own communities.