Pope Francis met two Nigerian women, formerly held by Boko Haram militants, on International Women’s Day.Pope Francis met two Nigerian women, formerly held by Boko Haram militants, on International Women’s Day.
The two girls escaped from Boko Haram’s captivity after enduring years of violence.
Both Christian, they were brought to meet the Pope and Italian policymakers by a Vatican NGO.
Boko Haram, Nigeria’s homegrown jihadi rebels, launched an insurgency in 2009 to fight against western education and to establish Islamic Shariah law in Nigeria. At least 35,000 people have been killed and 2.1 million people displaced as a result of the extremist violence, according to data from United Nations agencies in Nigeria.
Nigerian security forces have repeatedly claimed victory in the war against Boko Haram and its offshoot the Islamic State in West Africa Province. But spontaneous attacks still target remote communities that have little security presence.
Thousands are believed to be held captive by the group which forces people to convert to Islam. The conflict has spilled over to Nigeria’s neighbours Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
Both women briefly met with journalists Tuesday, emotionally recalling their past traumatic experiences. They told reporters how Boko Haram was forcing them to convert to Islam and wanted them to get married to members of the group.
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22-year-old Jarada Marcus was kidnapped and released several times by Boko Haram militants. Extremists killed her father in front of her. She finally found sanctuary at a Catholic association’s centre in northeastern Nigeria.
19-year-old Mariamu Joseph was kidnapped by the group in 2014 alongside her brother and sister. She spent around nine years in captivity, and finally managed to escape in 2022. One of Mariamu’s siblings was killed, while another is still held captive. She said the extremists held her in a cage for months with little food.
They both now hope to have a better future, while still thinking of those still held captive or forcefully displaced from their homes, due to the group’s attacks.