A Kenyan woman searching for her two brothers, suspected of joining the Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants Al-Shabaab, has discovered that women are being seized and trafficked by the group as sex slaves. Her findings are revealed in the BBC report, The sex slaves of al-Shabab.
During her search, Salama Ali uncovered stories of both Christian and Muslim women, young and old, who had been taken across the border to Somalia against their will from Mombasa and other areas along Kenya’s coastal region.
Women were often promised high-paid work in another area. Faith*, a woman who escaped after being held captive for three years, was offered work in the tourist area of Malindi. Taken at the age of 16, she was drugged and raped before being driven into the forest to work as a cook. She became pregnant and delivered the baby herself in a forest.
Salama set up a support group for women returning from captivity. Its members arrived back with babies, some with HIV, and some with mental illness caused by their experiences. All are terrified to speak openly because of the risk of being mistakenly identified as an Al-Shabaab sympathiser.
Some of the women were raped repeatedly over a period of years; others became wives of Al-Shabaab militants, like Sarah*, who said there is an organised programme to breed the next generation of fighters.
Al-Shabaab is believed to have between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters. It’s carried out several attacks in the border area with Kenya, where it has its strongest presence, including the storming of the university campus at Garissa that left 147 mostly Christian students dead. The group has said it wants Somalia to be “free of all Christians”.