Nearly 5 years ago, 276 school girls were abducted from a school in Chibok, north-east Nigeria. These girls, a symbol of the ongoing brutal armed conflict, represent a fraction of the thousands of girls and boys who have been abducted by the armed groups. Many are still in captivity or missing.
“When I think of my daughters, I shed a tear and say a prayer for their safe return,” said Ali Mustafa. He lost three of his daughters when the armed group attacked his village in Mafa four years ago. His oldest daughter Babagana was 15 at the time and the youngest Falta only 10 years old. He speaks fondly of his girls. “Seeing other girls about the same age or same height, playing the same games, reminds me of my girls.”
Ali Mustafa is not the only parent, missing his children. The anniversary of the Chibok abduction is a grim reminder that widespread abductions of children continues to take place.
“We were close, my son and I. He used to help around the house, wash clothes, run errands and fetch water,” explained Habi Usman. “I miss him when I am doing the errands now, all on my own.” Her oldest son was abducted four years ago from Konduga. Today, she is raising her two youngest children alone in a camp for the internally displaced.
“Boko Haram attacked my house, the fighters put a gun in my ear and threatened to slaughter my wife in front of my eyes if I didn’t give four of my daughters away,” said Kadir Kamsulim. His daughters were married to the fighters on the spot and then taken away.
“The girls were close to the age of getting married. I had told them they should choose husbands they love. I wasn’t going to pick husbands for them. It makes the memory of the abduction even more painful,” Kadir explained. Nearly three years after the incident, his wife still suffers from hypertension and anxiety. “I am sad too but I need to comfort my wife and I cannot show my pain.”
Besides anxiety, the abductions cause fear in some parents.
“When I am all alone, I am scared that the boys will come back, indoctrinated by Boko Haram, and will kill me,” said Hadiza Garba. Her husband was killed and three of my boys were taken by the fighters when the armed group attacked her village in Dikwa.
“I hope that no matter what, and what they might have done, they come back and everyone — the emir, the elders, the whole community and the family members — accept them back. My boys are not bad people. If they come back, I’ll accept them,” Hadiza explained.
“If there is a way to reach out to my girls, I would like to tell them that I am here, waiting for them,” said also Yarima Adam. His 11 and 12 year old daughters, Falmata and Aisha, were taken five years ago by armed fighters and he hasn’t seen them since. “I don’t know where they are, only God knows.”
The other parents echo his wishes and say they won’t stop looking for their children or hoping for their return unless someone tells them their children are dead. The world might have forgotten about these children, and the thousands of others, missing in the conflict-torn north-east Nigeria, but their parents and families have not.
UNICEF works closely with the Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and partners to support children who have been rescued or have escaped from captivity. The work is funded by the governments of France, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, United States as well as the European Union Trust Fund.
Helping children return to normal life after their horrific experiences is a complex and long process. More funding is needed to provide mental health and social support, reunite families and offer education, safe water and medical services.