Chibok Girls Reunite With Families After Being Held In Captivity By Boko Haram

May 20, 2017
Originally published on May 20, 2017 6:59 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We turn now to a joyous and emotional reunion in Nigeria today. More than 80 young women released by Boko Haram are reunited with their families. The Chibok schoolgirls, as they are known, were kidnapped by extremist fighters in 2014. From the capital of Abuja, NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: It's an extraordinary scene here, dozens and dozens of beautifully clad in their colorful clothing young Chibok women reuniting with their parents. They are crying. They are hugging. They're - everybody is absolutely overwhelmed.

Eighty-two Chibok girls rushed through the throng, throwing their arms around mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles. Entire families sank to their knees, giving praise that their children have returned from Boko Haram captivity alive.

YAHI BULATA: I thank God my daughter is alive, sound alive. Ah, I thank God. Thank God. Thank God. Thank God. Thank God. And today is tears of joy. God bless Nigeria. God bless Nigeria.

QUIST-ARCTON: Yahi Bulata, hugging his 21-year-old daughter Comfort Bulus Bulata, one of the freed young Chibok women, says he wants her to return to education and become a senior government official. When they abducted the school girls, the extremist Boko Haram group that held them captive for three years bragged that the girls would be forced to convert to Islam and marry Boko Haram fighters. Some of the young women have had babies with their captors.

The former schoolgirls are currently being evaluated by the Nigerian authorities and will remain in government care for now. Nigeria's minister for women's affairs, Aisha Jummai Alhassan, rejects criticism that the freed young women will be kept here in the capital, far away from their families in Chibok.

AISHA JUMMAI ALHASSAN: Their parents are free to come see them anytime. And it is their choice to be there because it is easier for them to get over the trauma while outside Chibok.

QUIST-ARCTON: Nigerian psychologist Fatima Akilu, head of deradicalization and reintegration under the former government, explains that the Chibok girls are just the tip of the iceberg. She stresses that thousands more girls, boys, women and men have also been kidnapped during Nigeria's eight-year Boko Haram insurgency in which more than 20,000 people have been killed.

FATIMA AKILU: Resources should be scaled up to include the voiceless victims that don't really have this big megaphone that has highlighted their plight. We see them in the thousands.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: (Singing in foreign language).

QUIST-ARCTON: But today, they're celebrating as mothers sing a song of thanks. However, the newly released young women and their families have not forgotten the 113 remaining Chibok schoolgirls still in captivity. They're praying their schoolmates will soon be released by Boko Haram and come back home. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Abuja. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.