Rescued From Boko Haram, How Can They Reclaim Their Lives?

By Luis Gay


More than 200 women and children were “freed from the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria on [May 2, 2015].” Of those, many were children and a large amount of women were pregnant. Healthcancer screenings and psychological counseling for the rescued women were provided by the Chief of the United Nations Population Fund. Health professionals are pondering whether former captive women and children can reintegrate back into society or “reclaim [their] life.” Dr. Theresa Betancourt, director of the Research Program on Children and Global Adversity at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, studies this very question of how children affected by hardship reintegrate back into society. She led a 13-year study with 529 former child soldiers held captive in Sierra Leone and is applying her findings to discover the “problems the Nigerian girls might face and the support they will need.” as discussed in an interview with NPR (National Public Radio). She believes that Nigeria is tending to the needs of the girls both on the physical and mental side. In other words, “they’re attending to pregnancy care but also immediate psychosocial care.” Although, she does have concern that many of the pregnancies are “in the context of abuse and rape and are unwanted.” Thus, one has to worry about maternal depression which, in turn, prevents a mother’s ability to fully nurture the child. Mentorship and support on “taking on the role of [being a] mother” will be needed for these girls.”

Bentancourt’s research has shown that there are girls that go on and “reclaim their lives” after going through horrific experiences. She told a story of a girl who had been unmercifully beaten for 2 ½ years, which resulted in a deformity on her leg in addition to have a baby a young age. Having witnessed various “killings and atrocities”, she had trouble getting along with peers.” Although with a dedicated mother and flexible teacher, she was able to establish connections within her school and the community. Eventually, with family support, she cared for her child on her own and “became a dedicated student.”

Bentancourt explained that Sierra Leone has opportunities to help girls such as the one mentioned earlier by “continuing in their education, having adequate social support and lower levels of community stigma.” When NPR asked if Nigeria had the same support, Bentancourt expressed that they do have “a health system that is higher functioning than many other areas where children have been involved with armed groups” along with mental health experts. It is through these resources within the state, family, and community members that create hope for trauma victims coming back to their community. Most importantly, it is the connections that trauma victims have with each other that heal emotional wounds inflicted by enslavement.

Luis Gay is an undergraduate attending the University of San Francisco, pursuing a Biology degree and Chemistry Minor. He is a Social Media Assistant at Cancer InCytes Magazine.


Brink, Susan. 2015May8. “Rescued From Boko Haram, How Can They Reclaim Their Lives?”. NPR. [Accessed 9 May 2015]

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