Human Rights Watch (HRW) has alleged, in a report released yesterday, that 500 women and girls have the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) in one Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in the North East.
The group cited an unnamed medical worker in its report, who alleged that those infected with HIV in one IDP rose from 200 to 500, with more cases unreported, over fear of stigmatisation.
“A medical health worker in one of the camps, which has 10, 000 residents said the number of people requiring treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections has risen sharply, from about 200 cases when the camp clinic was established in 2014 to more than 500, in July 2016. The health worker said she believed that many more women could be infected but were ashamed to go to the clinic and are likely to be suffering in silence without treatment.” HRW did not, however, name the camp involved.
Promptly, President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered Inspector General of Police, Idris Ibrahim and North East governors, to, as a matter of urgency, commence investigation into alleged cases of sexual abuse and exploitation of women and girls in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps.
The president was also reacting to allegations of sexual abuse of women and girls in IDP camps in the North East, as contained in the HRW.
Regardless, the president, who described the HRW report as “worrisome and shocking,” said he will wait for the outcome of the investigation before taking action.
His Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu conveyed the president’s directive in a statement, yesterday.
Shehu said the president reiterated welfare of the IDPs, whom he described as ‘most vulnerable of Nigerians,’ remains a priority of his government. “Nigerians and the international community can rest assured that the allegations raised in the HRW are not being taken lightly. President Buhari has instructed the IGP and state governors of the affected states to immediately, commence investigation into the issue. Their findings will determine the next course of action for the government and define an appropriate response.”
The HRW alleged in its report that “government officials and other authorities in Nigeria have raped and sexually exploited women and girls displaced by the conflict with Boko Haram.”
The group further added that, four months ago, specifically in July, it documented sexual abuse, including rape and exploitation of 43 women and girls living in seven IDP camps in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State.
“The victims had been displaced from several Borno towns and villages, including Abadam, Bama, Baga, Damasak, Dikwa, Gamboru Ngala, Gwoza, Kukawa, and Walassa. In some cases, the victims arrived in the under-served Maiduguri camps, where their movement is severely restricted after spending months in military screening camps.
“It is bad enough that these women and girls are not getting much-needed support for the horrific trauma they suffered at the hands of Boko Haram.
“It is disgraceful and outrageous that people, who should protect these women and girls are attacking and abusing them. Four of the victims told HRW that they were drugged and raped, while 37 were coerced into sex through false marriage promises and material and financial assistance.
“Many of those coerced into sex said they were abandoned after they became pregnant. They and their children have suffered discrimination, abuse, and stigmatisation from other camp residents. Eight of the victims said they were previously abducted by Boko Haram fighters and forced into marriage before they escaped to Maiduguri.”
Women and girls, abused by members of the security forces and vigilante groups – civilian self-defence groups working with government forces in their fight against Boko Haram – told HRW they feel “powerless and fear retaliation” if they report the abuse.
“A 17-year-old girl said that just over a year after she fled the frequent Boko Haram attacks in Dikwa, a town 56 miles west of Maiduguri, a policeman approached her for “friendship” in the camp, and, then, he raped her. “One day, he demanded to have sex with me. I refused but he forced me. It happened just that one time, but soon, I realized I was pregnant. When I informed him about my condition, he threatened to shoot and kill me if I told anyone else. So, I was too afraid to report him, ” she said.
The HRW report continues: “In some cases, men used their positions of authority and gifts of desperately-needed food or other items to have sex with women.
“A woman in a Dalori camp said residents get only one meal a day. She said she accepted the advances of a soldier who proposed marriage because she needed help in feeding her four children. He disappeared five months later when she told him she was pregnant.
Victims of rape and sexual exploitation may be less likely to seek health care, including psychological counselling, due to the shame they feel. Fewer than five of the 43 women and girls interviewed said they had received any formal counselling after they were raped or sexually exploited,” said Mausi Segun, senior Nigeria researcher at HRW.