Sexual violence and forced conversion of women – (I) Nigeria, Syria and Iraq
By Marta Petrosillo

Militant Islamist groups in Africa and the Middle East have often used rape as a weapon of war. Systematic sexual violence can be a powerful tool when one group tries to oppress another.

Many jihadists rape non-Muslim women and force them to convert. Forcibly converting a woman of another religious group means that her children will be raised in the extremist Islam of the jihadists and that the aggressor’s sexual enslavement of women also prevents births within the woman’s religious group.[1]

Forced pregnancies and conversions are also a means to secure ‘the next generation of jihadists’. In December 2014, Daesh (ISIS) released a pamphlet, which explained to its followers that it is “permissible” to have sexual intercourse with, beat and trade non-Muslim slaves, including young girls.[2] This provides an explanation of what was done to thousands of women from Yazidi and other minority religious backgrounds under the so-called Caliphate established by Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

In northern Nigeria, Daesh-linked group Boko Haram has employed the abduction of Christian women as part of its effort to force the Christians to leave the north. A Boko Haram spokesman stated: We are going to put into action new efforts to strike fear into the Christians of the power of Islam by kidnapping their women”.[3]  According to Amnesty International’s Makmid Kamara those seized by Daesh suffered “horrific abuses” including rape.[4]

The best-known case is the kidnapping of 276 female students, mostly Christians, who were seized from the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State, on the night of 14th-15th April 2014. Many non-Muslim students were forced to convert to Islam and marry Boko Haram members. On the 5th of May that same year, Boko Haram released a video showing some of the girls wearing Islamic dress. In the following years several girls managed to escape while others were freed following negotiations: more than 100 have now been freed, 82 were released In May 2017 in exchange for five Boko Haram fighters. According to the UN: “The girls report they have been subjected to rape – frequently in the form of forced ‘marriages’ – beatings, intimidation and starvation during their captivity. Many returned pregnant or with babies as a result of rape.”[5]


[1] Cf. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, section 2.

[2] Hala jabber, “Isis issues guide to raping child slaves”, Sunday Times, 14th December 2014, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/isis-issues-guide-to-raping-child-slaves-zdq0mf95scb (accessed 1st August 2018).

[3] “Boko Haram threatens to kidnap Christian women in Nigeria”, Barnabus Fund, 9th March 2012, https://www.barnabasfund.org/en/news/BokoHaramthreatenstokidnapChristianwomeninNigeria (accessed 31st July 2018)

[4] “Nigeria: Chibok anniversary a chilling reminder of Boko Haram’s ongoing scourge of abductions”, Amnesty International, 13th April 2017, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/04/nigeria-chibok-anniversary-a-chilling-reminder-of-boko-harams-ongoing-scourge-of-abductions/ (accessed 1st August 2018).

[5] “Girls held by Boko Haram need support to rebuild shattered lives”, UNICEF Niheria Media Centre, 18th October 2016,  https://www.unicef.org/nigeria/media_10782.html (accessed 31st July 2018)

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