By Ellen Wulfhorst
Untold stories of young Nigerian women kidnapped by Boko Haram highlight a documentary debuting on Monday that reveals diaries kept by survivors forbidden from talking about their captivity.
The diaries, secretly given to the U.S.-based documentary producers by former captives, detail life under the jihadist group that, according to the United Nations, has abducted more than 1,000 children in the last five years in northeast Nigeria.
Appearing in the film “Stolen Daughters: Kidnapped by Boko Haram” are survivors from the town of Chibok, where the 2014 abduction of about 220 schoolgirls sparked global outrage, and girls kidnapped elsewhere in Nigeria who escaped the militants.
Producers Karen Edwards and Sasha Achilli said they were not allowed to ask the freed girls, living in a state safe house, about their ordeal on the grounds it would retraumatize them.
“If ever we did try to talk to them, the minders would stop it,” Edwards told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“That’s why I think they gave us the diaries.”
Boko Haram remains a charged issue politically in Nigeria, where the government has failed to defeat the militants who have waged an insurgency since 2009 to carve out an Islamic state.
About 100 Chibok girls are unaccounted for, while thousands of other abducted children are still missing, campaigners say.
One diary entry given to the filmmakers described three girls who fled but were caught, flogged and thrown into a hole.
“They told us whosoever cries or begs for them not to be slaughtered will be slaughtered along with them,” a girl wrote.
A survivor named Habiba tells of being captured aged 15, locked in a cage for four months, and forced to marry a soldier.
She escaped, two months pregnant, and was caring for her baby and two orphans, boys kidnapped by Boko Haram to be child soldiers, when the filmmakers found them begging in the streets.
“Her story just reflected so many of the women we saw out there who were so courageous and brave,” Edwards said.
“Despite what happened to them, they still find it within themselves to be kind to others around them.”
The film will be shown on U.S.-based broadcaster HBO in the United States, Canada and Europe on Monday and later in Israel and Russia, publicists said. Yet there are no plans to broadcast the documentary in Nigeria, according to the filmmakers.
“Anything that leads to the issue of the Chibok girls not being forgotten is a welcome development,” said Aisha Yesufu, a leader of Nigeria’s Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaign group.
“We want the issue to be at the forefront and … the whole world to know that they need to be rescued.”
Other such diaries exclusively given to the Thomson Reuters Foundation last year revealed that the Chibok mass abduction – the biggest publicity coup of Boko Haram’s jihadist insurgency – was not planned but the accidental outcome of a botched robbery.
– Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Additional Reporting by Nellie Peyton in Dakar, Editing by Kieran Guilbert