For the first time, one of the missing Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram has been found and reunited with her family, according to news reports.
More than 270 girls were abducted in Nigeria in April 2014, sparking worldwide outrage. During and immediately after the abduction, some girls escaped — including one who spoke to NPR’s All Things Considered last month about her journey from captive to U.S. college student.
But 219 remained missing.
Last month, on the second anniversary of the abduction, CNN aired a video it said showed that some of the kidnapped girls were still alive.
And now, news reports say one of the captives has been found.
The Associated Press says the 19-year-old woman was “wandering near the Sambisa Forest” in northeastern Nigeria when hunters came across her. She had a baby with her and was severely traumatized, according to her uncle.
She’s been reunited with her mother, the AP reports.
Army spokesman Sani Usman confirmed that one of the schoolgirls had been found, claiming the rescue was performed jointly by the military and a civilian vigilante group, according to Reuters.
The young woman reportedly said some of the Chibok abductees have died but that many remain alive in Boko Haram captivity.
NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, reporting from Maiduguri in northeastern Nigeria, says the Sambisa forest is a former stronghold of Boko Haram. The purported return of a Chibok abductee is raising hopes that the Nigerian military might be able to locate and rescue more of the missing girls.
Ofeibea says the families of the 219 missing girls have been “living through desperation and anxiety for the past two years.”
“Don’t forget that Boko Haram said at the time that these schoolgirls had been sold off as slaves to Boko Haram militants, had been converted to Islam and that they would never be seen again,” she says. “So the families have been desperate for news of these girls for the past two years and one month.”
Ofeibea also reminded us of why the abduction of these schoolgirls made headlines around the world, prompting a social media campaign called #BringBackOurGirls.
“It was in the dead of night, from their dorms. They were just about to sit exams,” she says. “And many people have described these young women — girls, between the ages of about 13 and 18 — as the cream of the cream. They were waiting to take exams, they had their future ahead of them, and suddenly they were disappeared, abducted, kidnapped. … It really touched the world consciousness.
“It’s not that girls had not been abducted before by Boko Haram in Nigeria — or since. Hundreds have. But the fact that it was so many … in this dramatic mass abduction … many, many people were outraged and they said something must be done about it. And it called attention to the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria,” Ofeibea says.
It’s estimated that thousands of women and children have been kidnapped by Boko Haram. Some captives are used in bombing attacks. Many who escape — after suffering violence, sexual assault and other traumas — face fear and hostility when they return to their communities, because of the stigma of bearing the children of militants or the worry that they may have been brainwashed.
According to a report by The Global Terrorism Index, Boko Haram was the deadliest terrorist group in the world in 2014.