Chibok girls: What fate awaits the ones set free? - Alastair Leithead

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There was huge relief when 82 of the girls kidnapped by Islamist militants Boko Haram in Chibok, north-east Nigeria, in 2014 were freed on Saturday. But, as the BBC's Alastair Leithead has been finding out, they may still not be able to go back home.

The ordeal of being kidnapped by Boko Haram does not end with the release of the captives. In fact, it is just the start of a long struggle back into family and community life.

Captured as children, the Chibok girls, as they have come to be known, are being freed as young women. An already fraught transition from adolescence to womanhood complicated by their captivity.

The 82 will, albeit briefly, be reunited with their families over the coming days.

A representative from the group of Chibok parents has visited them, to check their identities against the list of those freed, and to tell those waiting for confirmation either the good or the bad news.

Most relatives are still living in the remote town of Chibok, 900km (600 miles) north-east of the capital, Abuja. And it will be a long but joyous journey for those told to come.

Government care or custody? 

There will be tearful reunions and a mixture of emotions as both parents and daughters will have changed a great deal over the past three years.

And then what?

If the treatment of the 21 girls released last October, and the few who escaped, is a guide, the young women will go through a process of re-integration or rehabilitation.

This is either government care or government custody depending on the point of view.

Some families support the process, others are angry that more than six months after being released from Boko Haram, they still do not have their children back.

One of the parents who visited a secure government facility in the capital, Abuja, last week said they are being treated well and are living comfortably.

"I was happy with the conditions the girls are staying in. They are doing fine," said Ali Maiyanga Askira who went to see his daughter Maryam.

"I wish she was with us, but I couldn't take care of her as well as the government is.

"They are teaching vocational work like tailoring and knitting, and they are also taking lessons. 

"The minister of education told us in the next four months they would go back to school.

"I am happy with whatever decision the government takes," he said.

But some other families just want their girls back.

There was anger at Christmas when they were brought to Chibok to meet relatives, but were not allowed home.

They were taken to a local politician's house and their families were only allowed to visit them for a short time.

"I can't believe my daughter has come this close to home, but can't come home," said one father at the time.

But the chairman of the Chibok community in Abuja, Tsambido Hosea, said parents were being invited to visit Abuja in small groups.

"They are in a rehabilitation centre. The government says it is giving them some instruction so they will be ready to go to school," he said.

As to whether they are allowed to go home or not, the community doesn't care that they are being held by the government.

"We know they are in the hands of people we know, that we can call, to answer at any moment. It's different from when they were in the hands of the terrorists."

Psychologists who have worked with those previously released from the Islamist group said family therapy rather than isolation would be a better way of reintegrating them.

But there is also the suspicion that the former captives are not being allowed home because the huge publicity around the case could make them targets for kidnapping again.

There have been times when those, not from the Chibok group, who were allowed home without proper psychological support have been alienated by their communities or even parts of their own families.

Some converted from Christianity to Islam, and some were married to Boko Haram fighters and had children with them, leading them to be shunned.

It is clear that once the violence is over the militant's impact in the region will remain for a generation, unless those abducted can be quickly and effectively re-integrated in society.

At the moment though, those recently released will have to contemplate a future still far away from their families.

BBC

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