The Gender Security Project
CRSV: The Kidnapping of the Chibok Girls by Boko Haram
This case note is a part of our series of case notes that document the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. It contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.
Background of the Conflict
The Boko Haram, which carried out the Chibok kidnappings, is a terrorist organization operating in and out of northeastern Nigeria, and is also active in Chad, Niger, and northern Cameroon (Bureau of Counter-terrorism, n.d.). Since its founding in 2002, Boko Haram’s radicalization in the region has culminated in the suppression of operations by the Nigerian military, as well as the establishment of a state of emergency at the beginning of 2012. The group also aligned itself with the ISIS. Since its insurgency began in 2009, Boko Haram has killed tens of thousands of people in frequent attacks targeting the security sector and citizens alike. It has culminated in the deaths of over 300,000 children and displaced 2.3 million people from their homes.
The Boko Haram intends to set up an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria, and is opposed to western-style modern education, which it claims is taking people away from an Islamic way of life (McElroy 2013). By 2014, it had attacked and killed tens of thousands of people across Nigeria, and a state of emergency had been declared in the states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa. On the night of April 14-15, 2014, 276 girls aged between 16 and 18 years were kidnapped by Boko Haram, a terrorist group from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria (Omeni 2017). While the school had been closed owing to the deteriorating security conditions, the girls themselves were present to take their final examinations in physics. The kidnappers broke into the school disguised as soldiers of the Nigerian Armed Forces (Burns 2015; Nossiter 2014b).
Prevalence of Sexual Violence
Boko Haram began targeting schools in 2010, and has been known to kidnap girls – especially because it believes that girls should not be educated and used them as cooks and sex slaves (Dorell 2014). On the night of the kidnapping, some girls were loaded onto trucks, while some others were forced to walk several miles until other trucks came to take them away (Adamu 2017). A total of 276 girls were kidnapped on April 14-15, 2014. Of these, 57 girls escaped immediately by jumping off the trucks on which they were being transported (Smith and Bratu 2016). From time to time, a few girls were rescued by Nigerian Armed Forces, as well (Romo 2018). As of April 14, 2021, over 100 girls continue to remain missing (Obiezu 2021). In the immediate aftermath, attempts to locate the girls remained unsuccessful.
An overwhelming majority of the girls were Christian and were forced to convert to Islam (Moodley 2014). They were forced into marriage with members of the Boko Haram, with a bride price of Nigerian Naira 2000 each (Heaton 2014). The girls were raped (MacLean 2014) and subjected to violence (Grill and Selander 2014).
Basis of the use of Sexual Violence
Boko Haram intended to use the girls as sexual objects by forcing them into sexual slavery. Many of the girls were forced into marriage and sexual violence – and when they refused to enter into marriage, they were forced to provide hard manual labour (Burke 2021). Several of them were threatened with starvation and murder (Burke 2021). When Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility for the kidnappings in a video, he also claimed that slavery was allowed in his religion and that he would capture people to make them slaves, that he had been instructed by Allah to sell them and that he would carry out their instructions, and that girls as young as nine are suitable for marriage, and should not be allowed to study (Lister 2014; BBC 2014).
The use of sexual violence was also part of a systematic campaign to intimidate the civilian population into compliance with the Boko Haram’s demands. Shekau had also stated that he did not intend to release the girls until the Boko Haram militants who were in prison were released (Nossiter 2014a).
Bureau of Counterterrorism (n.d.). "Country Reports on Terrorism 2013". U.S. Department of State. https://2009-2017.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2013/224829.htm
"Boko Haram admits abducting Nigeria girls from Chibok". BBC News. 5 May 2014. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-27283383
McElroy, Damien (6 July 2013). "Extremist attack in Nigeria kills 42 at boarding school". The Daily Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria/10163942/Extremist-attack-in-Nigeria-kills-42-at-boarding-school.html
Dorell, Oren (21 April 2014). "Terrorists kidnap more than 200 Nigerian girls". USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/04/21/parents-234-girls-kidnapped-from-nigeria-school/7958307/
Heaton, Laura (30 April 2014). "Nigeria: kidnapped schoolgirls 'sold as wives to Islamist fighters'". The Daily Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria/10797454/Nigeria-kidnapped-schoolgirls-sold-as-wives-to-Islamist-fighters.html
Lister, Tim (6 May 2014). "Boko Haram: The essence of terror". CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/06/world/africa/nigeria-boko-haram-analysis/
Nossiter, Adam (13 May 2014a). "Nigerian Girls Seen in Video From Militants". The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/13/world/africa/boko-haram-video-kidnapped-nigerian-girls.html
Nossiter, Adam (15 May 2014b). "Tales of Escapees in Nigeria Add to Worries About Other Kidnapped Girls". The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/15/world/africa/tales-of-escapees-in-nigeria-add-to-worries-about-other-kidnapped-girls.html
Grill, Bartholomaus; Selander, Toby (30 May 2014). "The Devil in Nigeria: Boko Haram's Reign of Terror". Der Spiegel. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/boko-haram-continues-to-terrorize-northern-nigeria-a-972282.html
Maclean, Ruth (12 October 2014). "Kidnapped Boko Haram girls make long walk to freedom". The Times. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/kidnapped-boko-haram-girls-make-long-walk-to-freedom-793qjjfnzgk
Moodley, Kiran (27 October 2014). "Inside Boko Haram: Women and girls forced to marry, convert and endure forced labour and rape in captivity". The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/inside-boko-haram-women-and-girls-forced-marry-convert-and-endure-forced-labor-and-rape-captivity-9820251.html
Burns, Rick (October 2015). "Threat Tactics Report: Boko Haram" (PDF). United States Army Training and Doctrine Command. p. 15. https://info.publicintelligence.net/USArmy-BokoHaram.pdf
Smith, Alexander; Bratu, Becky (20 May 2016). "Another Schoolgirl Taken by Boko Haram Is Rescued, Nigerian Army Says". NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/missing-nigeria-schoolgirls/another-schoolgirl-taken-boko-haram-rescued-nigerian-army-says-n577216
Omeni, Akali (11 April 2017). "The Chibok Kidnappings in North-East Nigeria: A Military Analysis of Before and After". Small Wars Journal. 14 (4). https://web.archive.org/web/20191103171633/https:/smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/the-chibok-kidnappings-in-north-east-nigeria-a-military-analysis-of-before-and-after
Adamu, Naomi (23 October 2017). "The secret diaries of the Chibok girls". BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-41570252
Romo, Vanessa (21 February 2018). "Nigerian Military Rescues 76 Schoolgirls After Alleged Boko Haram Attack". NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/21/587757512/nigerian-military-rescues-76-schoolgirls-after-alleged-boko-haram-attack
Burke, Jason (20 February 2021). "Smuggled diary tells how abducted women survived Boko Haram camp". The Observer. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/20/smuggled-diary-tells-how-abducted-women-survived-boko-haram-camp
Obiezu, Timothy (15 April 2021). "More Than 100 Chibok Girls Still Missing Seven Years Later". Voice of America. https://www.voanews.com/africa/more-100-chibok-girls-still-missing-seven-years-later