Some officials at internally displaced people (IDPs) camps, vigilante groups, policemen, and soldiers have raped and sexually exploited women and girls displaced by Boko Haram, according to Human Rights Watch.
The organisation said four of the victims narrated how they were drugged and raped, while 37 said they were coerced into sex through false marriage promises and material and financial assistance.
Those abused were quoted as saying they feel powerless and fear retaliation if they inform the authorities.
The rights group accused the government of not doing enough to protect displaced women and girls.
It said in July, it documented sexual abuse, including rape and exploitation, of 43 women and girls living in seven IDP camps in Maiduguri, Borno state capital.
The victims had been displaced from several Borno towns and villages, including Abadam, Bama, Baga, Damasak, Dikwa, Gamboru Ngala, Gwoza, Kukawa, and Walassa. In some cases, they had arrived in the under-served Maiduguri camps, where their movement is severely restricted after spending months in military screening camps.
“It is bad enough that these women and girls are not getting much-needed support for the horrific trauma they suffered at the hands of Boko Haram,” Mausi Segun, senior Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“It is disgraceful and outrageous that people who should protect these women and girls are attacking and abusing them.”
COERCION INTO SEX
Many of those coerced into sex said they were abandoned after they became pregnant. They and their children have suffered discrimination, abuse, and stigmatization from other camp residents. Eight of the victims said they were previously abducted by Boko Haram fighters and forced into marriage before they escaped to Maiduguri, the group said.
A 17-year-old girl said that just over a year after she fled the frequent Boko Haram attacks in Dikwa, a town 56 miles west of Maiduguri, a policeman approached her for “friendship” in the camp, and then he raped her.
“One day he demanded to have sex with me,” she said. “I refused but he forced me. It happened just that one time, but soon I realized I was pregnant. When I informed him about my condition, he threatened to shoot and kill me if I told anyone else. So I was too afraid to report him.”
Irregular supplies of food, clothing, medicine, and other essentials, along with restricted movement in the IDP camps in Maiduguri, compounds the vulnerability of victims – many of them widowed women and unaccompanied orphaned girls – to rape and sexual exploitation by camp officials, soldiers, police, members of civilian vigilante groups, and other Maiduguri residents.
Residents of the Arabic Teachers Village camp, Pompomari, told Human Rights Watch in July that the camp had not received any food or medicines since late May, just before the start of the month-long Muslim fast of Ramadan.
SEX FOR FOOD
In some cases, men used their positions of authority and gifts of desperately needed food or other items to have sex with women. A woman in a Dalori camp said residents get only one meal a day. She said she accepted the advances of a soldier who proposed marriage because she needed help in feeding her four children. He disappeared five months later when she told him she was pregnant.
Victims of rape and sexual exploitation may be less likely to seek health care, including psychological counselling, due to the shame they feel. Fewer than five of the 43 women and girls interviewed said they had received any formal counseling after they were raped or sexually exploited, Human Rights Watch said.
The Borno State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) has direct responsibility for distributing aid, including food, medicine, clothes, and bedding, as well as managing the camps. Its national counterpart, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), supplies raw food and other materials for internally displaced people to the state agency under a memorandum of understanding.
Aid workers have warned since early 2016 that displaced women were being forced to exchange sex for basic necessities and that various elements, including members of the security forces in northeast Nigeria, had been subjecting some of them to sexual and gender-based violence.
AWAITING THE MINISTER’S ACTION
A Rapid Protection Assessment Report published in May by the Borno State Protection Sector Working Group, made up of national and international aid providers, identified sexual exploitation, rape, and other sexual abuse as major concerns in nearly all 13 camps and several local communities hosting displaced people in and around Maiduguri.
Following his visit to Nigeria in August, the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani, said Nigeria’s government had “a tendency to downplay the problem of sexual violence and abuse” of internally displaced people. He expressed concern that this tendency “constitutes a hidden crisis of abuse with fear, stigma and cultural factors as well as impunity for perpetrators leading to under-reporting of abuse to the relevant authorities”.
Human Rights Watch said it wrote to several Nigerian authorities in August requesting comment on the research findings.
In a meeting with Human Rights Watch in September, Aisha Jumai Alhassan, minister of women affairs and social development, promised to investigate the allegations and then respond.
Her response had not been received as of the time the report was filed.