from Africa in Transition

Boko Haram’s Sex Slaves?

A girl who was freed by the Nigerian army from Boko Haram militants in the Sambisa forest looks on at the Malkohi camp for internally displaced people in Yola, Nigeria, May 3, 2015 (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters).

May 7, 2015

A girl who was freed by the Nigerian army from Boko Haram militants in the Sambisa forest looks on at the Malkohi camp for internally displaced people in Yola, Nigeria, May 3, 2015 (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters).
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More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Nigeria

Radicalization and Extremism

Gender

Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds, perhaps thousands of young women, of whom the Chibok school girls are only the most well-known. Now, many of these girls are being rescued by the Nigerian army after having been abandoned by retreating Boko Haram operatives.

So, why did Boko Haram kidnap so many girls in the first place? Invoking 7th century Islamic practice as its justification, Boko Haram claims that the wives and daughters of “infidels” or “pagans” are legitimate “booty,” and thus they can be sold into slavery. But, keeping so many girls alive must have been a logistical burden. Up to now, conventional wisdom has been that the kidnapped victims either became “wives” of Boko Haram fighters, domestic servants, or other support personnel. Some of the women have been indoctrinated and have become fighters or suicide bombers.

Recently, Borno’s governor Kashim Shettima provided another reason. He suggested that Boko Haram operatives deliberately impregnated women for ideological reasons: “These people have a certain spiritual conviction that any child they father will grow to inherit their ideology whether they live with the children or not.” So, kidnapped “wives” have ostensibly become a Boko Haram recruitment strategy.

It has been argued, that Boko Haram’s core ideology and mannerisms adhere closely to 7th century Islam. If Governor Shettima is correct, however, and Boko Haram operatives believe that their children will inherit their “ideology” from an absent father, then the movement has adopted at least one practice very far from 7th century Islamic teaching, as usually understood.

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Nigeria

Radicalization and Extremism

Gender

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