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These girls escaped Boko Haram. Now they’re pleading for help to save their generation

Two girls who were abducted by Boko Haram in 2014 thought they would never be able to escape their cruel captors. They were married to insurgents, faced brutal treatment and rape, and gave birth to their own children. Now Ya Kaka and Hauwa join Judy Woodruff to recount their harrowing experiences, how their lives have changed since fleeing the insurgents and what they want for their futures.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Boko Haram has cut an infamous and deadly reputation for itself in Nigeria.

  • And a particularly cruel tactic of the Islamist militant group is every parent’s worst fear:

    the kidnapping and killing of children.

    In a moment, you will hear testimonials from two young women who survived that experience, but first some background on the group and the fight against it.

    Boko Haram’s near-decade-long campaign of terror and violence has killed tens of thousands and displaced two million people. Their main focus, to overthrow Nigeria’s government and establish an Islamic state that forbids Western-style political and social activity.

    Boko Haram translates to Western Education is Forbidden. The group has carried out attacks in Cameroon, Niger and Chad, all from its base in remote Northeastern Nigeria.

    Since 2009, the militants have terrorized Africa’s most populous country with bombings, assassinations and abductions. Just last month, an ISIS-affiliated faction of Boko Haram kidnapped 110 girls from a boarding school in Northeast Nigeria, some as young as 11 years old.

    Last week, the Nigerian government shuttered boarding schools in the northeastern state and sent drones and jets to search for the girls. Boko Haram often marries the captives off to fighters. They have also been used as suicide bombers.

    In 2014, the militants abducted nearly 300 students from a school in the village of Chibok, prompting an international campaign to free them. More than 50 girls escaped. About 100 more were freed last year, after the Nigerian government paid a nearly $4 million ransom. Some had been forced to convert to Islam and sold as sex slaves. They were beaten, starved and sexually assaulted.

    Recently, Judy Woodruff sat down with two young women who were abducted in 2014 and escaped.

    Ya Kaka was 15 when taken, Hauwa, 14. They were brought to the U.S. by a nonprofit called Too Young to Wed dedicated to protecting young girls and ending child marriage.

  • And a warning:

    Their accounts are harrowing and disturbing, and will upset many viewers.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you for being here.

    Ya Kaka, I’m going to start with you.

    Tell us what happened to you.

  • Ya Kaka:

    I was living in Bama, my hometown, without any problems as a student, when Boko Haram came and invaded the town.

    They abducted me from my house, along with two of my younger siblings. One, a girl, was 5, then one of my younger brothers, who was 6.

    They took us to the forest, and up until now, there’s no news about them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what about your parents?

  • Ya Kaka:

    I am together with my parents.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    When they took you away, what happened? How long were you there and how were you treated?

  • Ya Kaka:

    I had been with them for a long time. We suffered a lot. It was rough treatment every day.

    My first husband among the insurgents was one of the people that abducted me. After having sex with me, he would send me out naked into the camp. Other insurgents would drag me and have sex with me.

    When I returned, he knew exactly that his own fellow insurgents had had sex with me. But he flogged me for wasting time. That was my daily life.

    I delivered a baby boy before I escaped with three other abductees.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Did you believe you would escape when you were being held?

  • Ya Kaka:

    I never thought that I would escape, because they took us far into the forest, and there was no indication that they would ever take us back into the town.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Hauwa, you were just 14 when you were abducted.

    Tell us what happened to you and your family.

  • Hauwa:

    I lived in Bama, along with my parents, before the advent of Boko Haram. I was a student going to school, no problem.

    Boko Haram came and invaded Bama. On the third day of the invasion, a childhood friend to my senior brother, who had joined Boko Haram, led other Boko Haram men to our house looking for my brother. He could not see him, so he said they’re going with me to the bush to go and marry me.

    My father objected. They held him, and, in my presence, they used a knife to slice his throat and kill him instantly. My stepmother also protested. They also held her and killed her.

    Fortunately enough, my mother wasn’t at home, so they took me away.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I can’t even imagine.

    And you were held for how long? And how were you treated?

  • Hauwa:

    I got pregnant in their custody, and my pregnancy was about nine months when I escaped.

    I can’t say precisely the amount of months I stayed in their custody. One day, I observed they were not paying attention in the night when they were in the mosque. I succeeded in escaping.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Did you believe you would be able to safely escape?

  • Hauwa:

    I never thought I could escape, but it was the best thing to do at that moment, because I was nine months’ pregnant, no support from anywhere, no arrangement to take care of me, nobody to help me out, no experience.

    I felt I may die in the process of giving birth, so I better die while escaping.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what has happened to your child?

  • Hauwa:

    I escaped from the camp. I was trekking in the bush.

    On the seventh day, I got to a deserted village, where I found an old woman that was there. She saw my condition. She accepted me, kept me in her house. Two days later, I delivered a baby girl. The old woman helped me. She supported me.

    After a few days, when I got a little stronger, we resolved that I should leave, because if the insurgents came to find me in her custody, they will kill both of us. So she showed me the road to Bama. I kept trekking.

    On the third day in the night, my daughter became ill, and she died. At first, I thought she was sleeping, but, later, I realized that her hands became very stiff. You couldn’t even move them. Then I knew she was dead.

    There was a rag donated to me by the old woman. I used it to wrap the corpse. Inside, I dug a hole, buried the girl, and proceeded.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I am so sorry.

    And you were alone through this whole thing, through this journey?

    And, Ya Kaka, how did you finally escape from Boko Haram?

  • Ya Kaka:

    I joined three other ladies to escape along with them, because we could not be in the situation. The suffering was becoming too much.

    So, we left the camp in the night, when most of the soldiers were sleeping. We escaped through the bush and trekked to Maiduguri. A military truck picked us up and dropped us close to a camp.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I understand you went to a camp or a place for displaced persons, people. And there, you were also treated badly. Is that right?

  • Ya Kaka:

    The soldiers that took us in their truck dropped us off at Dalori camp. It was a large camp with a lot of people.

    The feeding was a problem. You hardly get food to eat. Sometimes, I went for two days without food. Yes, there were some aid workers that were sharing food, but I never benefited. I watched the Red Cross twice distributing such aid materials, but it got finished before reaching my turn.

    And another problem we usually had in that camp is that, once it was evening, all the aid workers left the camp, leaving us with soldiers and other security agencies. Soldiers went to our various rooms, demanding for sex. And it was better to accept it, or you will be intimidated and dealt with.

    So, when I discovered I had left the problem and I had jumped into another problem, I decided to leave the camp to another community, where my child fell ill. And because I had no access to medication, he died. So that was how I lost my son.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we can’t even begin to imagine the sadness and the hardship that you have lived through. And I know everyone hearing your story is in awe of you and your strength and being able to tell these stories today, in hopes that things will change.

    Hauwa, how have you been treated? How has your life been since you escaped? And how hard is this for you now? Are you able to put that behind you and think about the future?

  • Hauwa:

    At the time I escaped and get to Maiduguri, I didn’t know anyone. I had nobody to stay with. So, I went to the host community and stayed with some people.

    But nobody wanted me around. Nobody was happy that I was living there, because they all call me the ex-wife of Boko Haram. They were all calling me names. I had only one dress set. Any time I wanted to go out or do something, if I wanted to wash my dress, I had to remove my dress, wash it, dry it off, and find somewhere to hide nude until the dress dried off, before I could put it on and leave.

    Too Young to Wed provided me with dresses and enrolled me in one of the best private schools in Maiduguri. And I became a point of attraction. My status changed.

    So, I had to leave that area that I was living in as a richer person to another part where they do not know much about me. And now they see me as well-to-do in this society, before I reconnected with my mother.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ya Kaka, how hard is it for you now, and what do you want to do now? What do you want to do in the future?

  • Ya Kaka:

    My major problem is when I go out in the streets of Maiduguri and I see some survivors that have been not been able to access any form of help. They are out of school. They are living wretched. I don’t feel happy.

    I pray that they also get the type of assistance I got, be in school, change their status, get good dresses, be accepted by the society and whenever they finish school.

    I am hoping, in my own case, when I finish school, I will come back and assist other growing children from my community that have been neglected. I also want all others to get the same treatment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hauwa, what do you want Americans to know about the future possibilities for people like — for young women, for people like you and like Ya Kaka, and other children of Nigeria, who have had this terrible thing happen to them, and many of whom are still at risk?

    What should Americans know? What do you want them to know about the future that you want?

  • Hauwa:

    I am pleading with the people of America and the government to please assist us.

    There are thousands of other children that have no voice that are abducted in the forests. Nobody is talking of them.

    Let the U.S. government put pressure where necessary. The government and all the relevant agencies should see that a lot of efforts will be put towards recovering these people. Put them in schools, so that they can save my generation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally, let me ask both of you, do you have a good feeling about your own future?

    Ya Kaka, do you feel you will be able to fulfill and have the life that you want to have?

  • Ya Kaka:

    Yes. My future is bright. I am a student of Western education, and I know the value of a Western education. Through that, I can have a brighter future.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Hauwa, what about you? What do you think not only the future is for you, but the other young people of Nigeria in the part of the country where you’re from?

  • Hauwa:

    In my own case, so long as I remain in school, my future is bright.

    But, at the same time, I request that other children should live like me or even better than me. Let the entire world devise various means of recovering all the kidnapped children, send them to school, and let them develop once more a hope in their lives.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are moved by your stories. We are very sad with you on the loss of your family members and your loved ones. And we certainly wish for you the very, very best.

    Thank you for coming and talking with us about what happened.

  • Hauwa:

    : Thank you very much.

  • Ya Kaka:

    Thank you very much.

  • Hauwa:

    Thank you very much.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Amnesty International reported today that the Nigerian security forces were alerted, but failed to act last month against Boko Haram militants who were heading to the town of Dachi. The group kidnapped more than 100 girls there.

    A Nigerian military spokesman denounced the finding, calling it economical with the truth.

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