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2014 (Narrative Date)

There are an estimated 1,386,000 people living in modern slavery in Nigeria (GSI 2018). Since 2009, Nigeria’s homegrown Islamist insurgent movement, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, popularly known as Boko Haram, which means “Western Education is Forbidden,” has waged a violent campaign against the Nigerian government in its bid to impose Islamic law. The attacks have increasingly targeted civilians, mainly in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa. Borno State, the birthplace of Boko Haram, has suffered the highest number of attacks. A range of issues, including widespread poverty, corruption, security force abuse, and longstanding impunity for a range of crimes have created fertile ground in Nigeria for militant armed groups like Boko Haram.

In some cases, women and children are abducted from predominantly Christian areas and forced to convert to Islam. These abductions took place most often in Boko Haram’s then-strongholds of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, or Damaturu, the capital of neighboring Yobe State. In most of the documented cases, married women were abducted as punishment for not supporting the group’s ideology, while unmarried women and girls were taken as brides after insurgents hastily offered a dowry to the families, who feared to resist.

Tambara* described how, after being abducted with her 47-year-old mother in November 2013, they were threatened with death unless they converted to Islam.

We returned to our village to get food after an attack, thinking the insurgents would have left after one week, but several of them grabbed my mother and I. They had guns and took us to a house in the hills where we met four other people who had been taken—two girls and two boys, all between 13 and 17 years old. The insurgent leader addressed us saying ‘today we’re going to convert you to Islam, then you can choose any one of us to marry, and we’ll give you a place to stay.’ My mother and I were already married so we refused but when they threatened to kill us, my mother advised we should agree because I was in the early stages of pregnancy and was too sick to eat. We were made to recite some words in Arabic and showed how to pray. Then they let us go after three days because my mother promised we will convince our husbands to become Muslims. I don’t know what happened to the other four abducted boys and girls we met in the camp. They were still there when we were allowed to leave.

 *Not their real name.

Narrative provided by Human Rights Watch