Some Teens Kidnapped By Boko Haram Are Now Free But Are Often Shunned By Their Community : Goats and Soda They're a forgotten group — abducted as teens, forced to marry a Boko Haram member and often bearing a child — now free from captivity, but not truly free.
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The Lament Of The Boko Haram 'Brides'

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The Lament Of The Boko Haram 'Brides'

The Lament Of The Boko Haram 'Brides'

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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Northeastern Nigeria now where the Boko Haram terror network has killed 20,000 people, driven millions from their homes and abducted thousands. Adults and children who survived the eight-year insurgency are beginning to tell their tails. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has the story of two young women.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Salamatu Umar is 18, a young 18, with a tiny little voice. Umar cradles her 1-year-old son, Usman. She seems like a child herself.

SALAMATU UMAR: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: Umar's son was born out of a forced marriage to a Boko Haram fighter. The teen, a native of Damboa in Nigeria's northeast, recounts her hell at the hands of Boko Haram after her town was overrun by the insurgents in 2014. She was 16 then.

UMAR: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: Umar was 1 of 6 girls abducted by extremist fighters and herded into the bush. Then, she says, "our Koranic religious teacher told us the pride of a woman is to be given in marriage. So he handed all six of us to Boko Haram insurgents." "That's how I came to marry Usman Abubakar," says Umar.

UMAR: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: "But I don't consider him my husband because in our tradition, your parents and family have to witness a marriage and give their blessing," says Umar. "You can't just be given out to somebody you don't know. My parents were not there. It's unimaginable to think that girls are abducted and then married off. No, that's not right," she tells me.

UMAR: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: Then Umar has second thoughts. "I suppose it is a marriage of sorts because I have a baby now, but that doesn't make it a proper marriage," she says. She looks down at her baby boy and smiles at Usman. That's now.

The abducted teen mother describes an arduous life in the Sambisa Forest. That's Boko Haram's hideout where the extremist group is said to have driven thousands of people its fighters kidnapped, including the Chibok schoolgirls. Umar cooked and cleaned house for many people apart from her husband who, she says, she did not love because she was forced to marry him. But he was a good man, though misguided, she says. And she forgives him.

UMAR: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: "He told me joining Boko Haram meant a direct route to heaven," says Umar, "so anybody living with them in the forest would surely go to paradise, so come and join them." Umar escaped from captivity with another teen bride after they hatched a plan to run away while collecting firewood for cooking.

She says, "I have lost so much. I've lost my virginity. I've lost my friends. I missed my parents and family. And which man will marry a girl who was once with Boko Haram, albeit against her will?" she asks. "I have been cheated, and I will never forget what I've been through." Then there's the name calling.

UMAR: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: "People call me Boko Haram wife to my face," says Umar. "They say I am the wife of a killer. So how can I be afraid of Boko Haram? They say my son is a Boko Haram baby. I used to feel it would be better to be dead then face all this," she says. "I'm getting over it now, but I still worry. I'm always happy when I see my child," she says, "but deep down, deep inside, I'm depressed and grappling with stigma and marginalization."

HAUWA MUSA MAGAJI: A lot of stigma, so it is a big challenge for us. These girls have no fault. We are talking about a girl that has been abducted, impregnated.

QUIST-ARCTON: Psychosocial counselor Hauwa Musa Magaji works alongside UNICEF, the U.N. children's agency. Magaji says cases like Salamatu Umar's are legion. Abducted girls and young women held in captivity by Boko Haram and forced to marry fighters. Many, she says, become pregnant and have children with these husbands. Magaji mentions another case.

MAGAJI: She was sold out as a slave doing all the household work, including the husband, the wife, the children. She was doing all the cooking. And she said the master of the house would also go to bed with her. She is not spared because she's a slave. And if she refused, it is the beating of her life that she will receive. So you can imagine this type of night. It was a hell.

QUIST-ARCTON: Magaji is describing the case of 20-year-old Esther Bitrus.

ESTHER BITRUS: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: Bitrus, who's Christian, says she was sold for money by one Boko Haram commander. Ultimately, she was married off to another commander. Before that, it was a life of drudgery for a year and three months, remembers Bitrus, doing all the work in a Muslim household, including wives who, she says, did nothing except accuse her, their slave, of sleeping with their husband.

BITRUS: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: Bitrus' problems were compounded, she says, when one wife caught her kneeling in Christian worship, saying prayers and fasting in desperation at her situation. "I was beaten," says Bitrus, "and my life was threatened."

BITRUS: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: Seven months pregnant, Bitrus ended up a young widow when her new husband was killed by a rival Boko Haram faction. Her baby daughter, Rebecca, was born after Bitrus and other wives were rescued by the Nigerian military. Now she is free. Bitrus wants to pick up where she left off at high school, reunite with her parents who are displaced across Nigeria's border in Cameroon and raise baby Rebecca. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Maiduguri.

(SOUNDBITE OF ACROMUSICAL'S "BERIMBAU TRIO, NO. 1 'HARMONIA'")

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