Umar Saleh

Centre for Conflict Management and Peace Studies,

University of Jos, Jos, Nigeria


This paper explored the experience of women and children in the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency in North East, Nigeria. Since 2010 clashed with the military and other government security operatives, the group has continued to terrorized people including women and children who are the most vulnerable during conflict. Using the qualitative method based on primary sources of data collection comprising of key informant interview and focus group discussions; and documented evidence, the study found that women and children were the most severely affected by the insurgency. Consequently, women and children were abducted by the insurgent groups and forced to become suicide bombers, cooks, human shields, sex-slaves with non-Muslims women and children converted to Islam. Women suffered emotional torture due to the death of their husbands and children became orphans, and were internally displaced and many forced into becoming refugees in neighbouring countries. The study concludes that with government putting in place effective policy framework towards addressing the root causes of the Boko Haram insurgency and providing safety-nets to affected women and children in the region will help in mitigating the spread of violent extremism and ameliorating their challenges.

Keywords:  insurgency, violence, Boko Haram, women and children.


The Boko Haram insurgency has impacted negatively on the lives of women and children especially in the North Eastern region. Women and children have been used by Boko Haram as weapons of war in various ways, either as human shields, sexual and domestic slaves or child soldiers. As Zena points out, the rise of Boko Haram in 2009 has led to their growing interest in women in both their actions and propaganda.[1] The kidnapping of 276 female students in Government Girls Secondary School Chibok, Borno state in 2014 and the 2016 Dapchi kidnap of 110 female students in Yobe State clearly showed a pattern by which women and children have become assets for war crimes by Boko Haram.

These incidences however, are the rather gross actions of this group, a number of studies- Human Rights Watch; UNICEF; Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme; and Read; have indicated that there have been and are quite a number of unreported cases of Boko Haram abduction of women and children in different villages and towns within the North East.[2] Child Soldiers International’s report shows that within the year 2018 alone, Boko Haram persisted with rather shocking levels of violence, with children routinely targeted for use as suicide bombers, with at least 43 cases in the first six months of the year.[3] This number continued to increase in 2019 despite the effort put by government to end the insurgency. This study adds to the literature that examines the motive behind Boko Haram violence against women and children and vis-a-vis kidnapping of young women and children using data gathered during the research in North East Nigeria. It equally raise issue concerning what the insurgents used with kidnapped old women which existing literatures have not been interrogated. It adds to a little but growing evidence base that underscores the need to investigate the issue and seek to respond and address it in the region.

The fact that women and children are highly vulnerable for capture is a major strategic setback for our security agencies, but also the mere fact that those not captured live in perpetual fear, with an expectation of their own day of reckoning shall come, has led many of them to voluntary radicalize. This portends to a potential growing population ready for radicalization and induction into the next generation. As many participants asserted “because of poverty, lack of having access to the means of livelihood and for survival purposes attracted many women and especially children to willingly join Boko Haram”.[4]

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