MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Two Nigerian women abducted as schoolgirls by a jihadi militant group nine years ago have been rescued, the West African nation’s military has said. One had a year-old baby while the second gave birth to her second child days after her freedom.
Hauwa Maltha and Esther Marcus were among 276 schoolgirls abducted in April 2014 from the Government Girls Secondary School in the village of Chibok by Boko Haram militants.
They were rescued in April by Nigerian soldiers and reunited with their families in the northeastern Borno state, according to Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Ali, who leads the Nigerian military operation against the extremist violence experienced in the northeast region for more than a decade.
Boko Haram fighters stormed the school in Borno nine years ago as the girls were preparing for exams. The mass kidnap sparked global outrage and led to the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign. More than 20 of the girls have regained their freedom in the past year, but nearly 100 are still missing.
Maltha and Marcus, both 26, were forcibly married to extremists while in captivity, Ali told journalists in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, on Thursday. His comments echoed concerns of parents and activists about the maltreatment of the girls by Boko Haram, whose name in the local Hausa language means “Western education is forbidden.”
Both girls were married three times as one husband after another was killed during clashes with the Nigerian military.
“Hauwa was about eight months and two weeks pregnant during her rescue, delivered a bouncing baby boy on April 28 while undergoing thorough medical examination along with her baby Fatima,” said the military commander.
The girls’ return brought excitement to many in the Chibok community. “It has made the memories fresh for the parents that their children are still missing,” said Hassan Chibok, a local leader.
Several of the girls have returned home in recent months mostly after escaping the Sambisa Forest, a known hideout for the extremists. Most of those who returned had babies after either being forced into marriage or after losing hope that they would ever regain their freedom, their parents and the freed girls have said.
Since the abduction in 2014, Boko Haram has grown in reach and influence. Most of its members now operate as a more brutal faction backed by the Islamic State group. More than 35,000 people have died and over 2 million have been displaced by the extremist violence in Nigeria, according to the U.N. Development Program.