Despite stigmatisation that she has been greeted with by members of her local community, a 16-year-old victim of Boko Haram, impregnated by the insurgents, Um Haleema (not real name), has said she would keep the pregnancy because her unborn baby deserves to live.
According to the soon-to-be teenage mother, her first few months in captivity, at the hands of militant group Boko Haram, were enough to break anyone’s spirit, let alone that of a teenage girl so far from home.
She said she was captured while trying to escape, along with three of her friends, as Boko Haram burned and ransacked her village and that during her captivity, she was forced to watch men, women and children slaughtered, forced into marriage and also forced to wait on a “husband” she hated.
But while she watched, she says she was also waiting for a chance to break free. And after six long months, it finally came.
“I had planned my escape from the beginning. There was a time my husband spent two weeks away, so I attempted to escape but guards returned me and beat me,” she told CNN in an interview.
Haleema said luck smiled on her when eventually, her captors’ vigilance began to slip and she managed to escape and she walked for what felt like days, until she finally reached safety.
She recalled that she arrived home to discover that her father had been killed by the same Boko Haram insurgents who had held her captive for almost a year just as she had become pregnant by her Boko Haram husband.
Now seven months pregnant, the former Boko Haram abductee, says she lives daily with the fear of stigmatisation by the men in her community.
“People in this village are rejecting me because of the pregnancy. Some will be happy to have me dead. Many people are even saying that I should go for an abortion,” she lamented.
Though the men, according to her, have made it clear that they would not have children fathered by Boko Haram live amongst them, and have threatened to kill both her and her baby, she is willing to have the baby and abortion is not an option.
Also speaking, Um Haleema’s mother says she immediately feared the worst when news got to her that her daughter had been abducted.
“Anybody captured by Boko Haram is presumed dead. They abducted my step-daughter and my daughter. They took a total of seven girls from this house,” she said.
She said though some mothers consider abortion the only way out, it’s not a risk she’s willing to take with her daughter.
“We heard about one girl who died after she attempted an abortion, losing both the mother and the baby. The girl was the only child to her mother, so that scared us. If God wishes, she will give birth safely. Life is in the hands of God alone,” she pointed out.
However, men in the village have denied threatening Um Haleema and her unborn baby.
“I am not aware of any woman in this village who was impregnated by them. If any woman is found to be pregnant, in our tradition, the pregnancy is considered Haram (unlawful), hence we cannot accept them wholeheartedly because they can be like baby snakes,” a local vigilante in the community said in an interview.
The vigilante leader said that his group didn’t believe Um Haleema had been forced into marriage and said that she and her unborn child would always be viewed with suspicion. He however declined comment on what he and his men might do about it.