After being held by Boko Haram in captivity for over three years, 82 Nigerian schoolgirls were reunited with their families in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. Their families were worried about how much their daughters’ lives had been changed by their treatment over the years at the hands of Boko Haram.
The New York Daily News reported that members of the families of the Chibok girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram extremists ran through the crowds in Abuja to give their daughters hugs during their emotional reunitement. According to BBC News, family members travelled all night by bus to reunite with their daughters.
Some family members danced with joy, while others sank to their knees in thankfulness that they were again back together with their daughters. Tears flowed from the eyes of some family members. Originally, 83 schoolgirls were supposed to be freed, but one of them, according to a Nigerian government spokesman, had found happiness with a husband from Boko Haram and refused to leave.
The release of the 82 young women was the greatest number of hostages liberated from Boko Haram since the group kidnapped 276 Chibok schoolgirls in 2014. They were freed in exchange for five commanders from Boko Haram. The government of Nigeria has stated they would free other prisoners in custody from the extremist group in exchange for the 113 Chibok schoolgirls still held in captivity.
A number of the schoolgirls, who were mainly Christians, were forced to get married to members of Boko Haram and some of them have had children. The newspaper reported that some of the girls are now refusing to return to Chibok, after having been radicalized.
An international Bring Back Our Girls campaign was launched after the Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped in April 2014 in northern Nigeria. Celebrities got involved in the campaign, including former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama.
During Boko Haram’s eight-year-long insurgency, thousands of people have been kidnapped and over 20,000 have been murdered. The Nigerian government was aided in its negotiations with Boko Haram by both the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss government, which offered its help in mediating with Boko Haram.
Earlier on Saturday, the group of 82 schoolgirls were reunited with a smaller group of 21, who were released from captivity last October. Television footage taken by Nigeria’s Channels TV showed the two groups laughing and embracing each other during the joyful reunion.
As part of a nine-month reintegration program, overseen personally by President Muhammadu Buhari, both groups of the freed Chibok schoolgirls have been in Abuja in care of the government. Human rights groups have voiced criticism that the government’s reintegration program has been keeping the schoolgirls away from their families for too long.
NPR reported that, according to Aisha Jummai Alhassan, Nigeria’s Minister of Women Affairs, the freed schoolgirls, who are now young women, are not really being kept from their families. She stated that family members of the Chibok schoolgirls have been free to visit their daughters in Abuja, and told the press that “the young women are there by choice.” She added that being away from Chibok for the nine-month period of reintegration would make it “easier for them to get over the trauma.”
The nine-month-long program began just two weeks ago for the 82 Chibok schoolgirls, so it will be still several months before they will return to Chibok and get to be with their families. The freed Chibok schoolgirls amount to just “a fraction of the women captured by the militant group.” estimated to e in the thousands. During the rehabilitation and reintegration program, the young women will also receive psychological and medical evaluation and military debriefings.
On Saturday in Nigeria, there was a joyful reunion between 82 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 and their families, as well as with 21 other Chibok schoolgirls released in October. The young women will not get to return to Chibok with their families yet, though, as they have just begun a nine-month-long government program designed to rehabilitate and reintegrate them back into society.
By John Samuels
Photo Courtesy Twitter