DALORI, Nigeria — Hundreds of women and girls captured by Boko Haram have been raped, many repeatedly, in what officials and relief workers describe as a deliberate strategy to dominate rural residents and possibly even create a new generation of Islamist militants in Nigeria.
In interviews, the women described being locked in houses by the dozen, at the beck and call of fighters who forced them to have sex, sometimes with the specific goal of impregnating them.
“They married me,” said Hamsatu, 25, a young woman in a black-and-purple head scarf, looking down at the ground. She said she was four months pregnant, that the father was a Boko Haram member and that she had been forced to have sex with other militants who took control of her town.
“They chose the ones they wanted to marry,” added Hamsatu, whose full name was not used to protect her identity. “If anybody shouts, they said they would shoot them.”
Boko Haram, a radical Islamist sect that has taken over large stretches of territory in the country’s northeast, has long targeted women, rounding them up as it captures towns and villages. Women and girls have been given to Boko Haram fighters for “marriage,” a euphemism for the sexual violence that occurs even when unions are cloaked in religion.
Now, dozens of newly freed women and girls, many of them pregnant and battered, are showing up at a sprawling camp for the displaced here outside the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, as Nigerian soldiers and other military forces try to push Boko Haram out of nearby territory it has occupied for much of the past year.
The full human toll of that occupation is only now emerging. More than 15,000 people have sought shelter at the camp, at an abandoned federal office-worker training center, most of them women, relief officials said. Over 200 have so far been found to be pregnant, but relief officials believe many more are bearing the unwanted children of Boko Haram militants.
“The sect leaders make a very conscious effort to impregnate the women,” said the Borno governor, Kashim Shettima. “Some of them, I was told, even pray before mating, offering supplications for God to make the products of what they are doing become children that will inherit their ideology.”
The militants have openly promised to treat women as chattel. After Boko Haram militants kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls from the village of Chibok last year, the group’s leader called them slaves and threatened to “sell them in the market.”
“We would marry them out at the age of 9,” the leader, Abubakar Shekau, said in a video message soon after the girls were abducted, prompting the global “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign.
Here is where the NYTimes has an obligation to explain why the age of nine as the “marriageable” age for girls keeps coming up.
The militants’ fixation with capturing, hoarding and “marrying” the women allowed some to witness central elements in their military strategy.
Meriam, 36, who had just arrived at the camp in Maiduguri from Gwoza, a Boko Haram headquarters town, spoke of being imprisoned with dozens of other women, including some who were being trained as suicide bombers.
Increasingly over the past year, the terrorists have used women and children to carry out suicide bombings against civilian targets like markets.
“The Boko Haram would recite the prayer for the dead,” Meriam said. “Then they would put on the hijab,” covering the suicide belt.
After they had prepared, “They said, ‘God will forgive us,’ ” she said. “Then, they would enter the vehicles, and they would send the women away.” …