The estimated 10,000 boy soldiers taken by Islamist militant group Boko Haram since the start of their insurgency in Nigeria in 2009 have lived through experiences many cannot imagine – nor would they want to – including ritualistic infant slaughter and bathing of hands in blood.
But unlike the abduction of the Chibok girls, which quickly became a global news story, not much is known about Boko Haram’s boy soldiers. They are the “stolen generation”, writes Sarah A. Topol in an article for the New York Times.
She recalls how she spent a number of weeks speaking with teenagers from the north-eastern Nigerian town of Baga, who were abducted in January 2015 after a four-day siege by Boko Haram but managed to escape.
The boys were taken to one of the group’s central bases, a palace in Malam Fatori, where they were served by abducted women and girls.
Some of them were given logistical or tactical jobs or lectured on Boko Haram’s ideology, while others were trained as soldiers: to kill or be killed. They share stories of little food, brainwashing, drugs, killing and maiming, and desperately trying to forget their previous life. Topol writes that say they were only able to survive by forgetting who they were.
Return to society has not been easy, with little to help them reintegrate. Many of the boys don’t want others to know about their past, in order to avoid accusations that they were willing aides in Boko Haram’s atrocities.
Many of the teenagers from Baga also say they don’t want any help. They are afraid they could be turned over to the military, having seen how the Nigerian government has been keeping the rescued Chibok girls in captivity for the past eight months.