Freedom for ‘Chibok Girls’ is still out of reach

(GIN) – Nearly four years after militants attacked a rural school and kidnapped over 200 girls in a well-planned raid, the nightmare has ended for about 100 Nigerian girls.

Young women now, they study at a private school and grapple with life as a former “Chibok girl.”

“I’m back, as they say,” Hauwa Ntakai told a newspaper reporter who wanted to see how the women were adjusting to a second chance at life in a society that seems hesitant to fully welcome them home.

While official figures count one hundred or so young women rescued or escaped from captivity, these are a fraction of the young people who wind up as brides, sexual slaves or fatalities brought about by extremists of “Boko Haram,” who oppose western education. Last fall, the girls from the Chibok school district were moved to a university campus. In addition to her studies, Ntakai takes an early morning yoga class and joins a debate night on social media. Still, her thoughts rarely stray from her sisters who are still captives of the Boko Haram insurgents.

Now out of the clutches of the rebels, the girls live a tightly restricted life, as ordered by the government. They can’t leave campus without an escort, they can’t have visitors without special permission. If they gave birth during captivity, their children are not allowed to stay with them at school, and visits with family may be no more than one short visit a year.

From an early photo by their captors showing the girls, faces drawn, wearing long Muslim gowns, a new photo shoot appeared in a mid-April edition of the New York Times. The girls are colorfully attired but with a shadow of sadness in their eyes.

“They will not be the normal people they were before they were abducted,” said Saudatu Mahdi, head of the Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative in a Times interview. “A lot of restrictions will come with their lifestyle.”

At the university, classmates fear that the former kidnappers will turn up or that the girls have become terrorists themselves. Somber pictures of the Chibok girls appear on six full pages of the New York Times.

“They’ve seen hell together,” said Somiari Demm, a psychologist who counsels the women, teaches them yoga and attends church services alongside them.

For now, the hardest adjustment for the women, Demm says, is “being free, but not really free.”

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