Nigerian feminists have urged the Federal Government, through the National Human Rights Commission, to probe the forced abortions report allegedly perpetuated by the military in the northeastern part of Nigeria.
An international news agency, Reuters, had accused the Nigerian Army of running a programme where forceful abortions were carried out on female victims of Boko Haram/Islamic State in West African Province.
The report claimed that the Army carried out the abortions without the persons’ consent and that at least 10,000 pregnancies had been illegally terminated.
These were contained in an investigation published by the news agency in December, 2022.
The probe, according to Reuters, was based on the accounts of 33 victims, hospital workers, and security officials, as well as documents gathered.
Reacting in a statement obtained by The PUNCH on Tuesday, the feminists, namely, Chioma Agwuegbo, Fadekemi Akinfaderin, Dr Leena Hoffmann, Ifeoma Ikwueme, Azeenarh Mohammed, Nana Nwachukwu, Lola Okolosie, Omolara Oriye and Buky Williams, said, “Friday marks six weeks since the Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Lucky Irabor, called on the NHRC to launch an investigation into the abortion report.”
They therefore called on the NHRC to make public its plans to take the investigation forward, expand its remit to look at the alleged killings of children, and commit to doing so in a victim-centred way.
“Many of the women involved had been kidnapped and raped by fighters and, just when they thought they reached safety, were given abortions without their consent. Those who resisted were beaten, held at gunpoint, or drugged into compliance by soldiers. This programme was carried out for years and across multiple administrations and shifts in military leadership. These acts are rooted in patriarchal ideology that places women’s bodies under the control of men and views children’s inevitable destiny to become like their fathers,” they claimed.
“Perpetration of violence is not genetic inheritance. We affirm the human rights of children as provided for in Nigeria’s Child Rights Act, including the rights of children associated with armed groups under international law. They are victims and should be provided care, support, and love to recover from trauma and build their futures.
“We also assert women’s right to bodily autonomy and to choose whether or not to have an abortion. These forced abortions display complete disregard for women’s health and wellbeing. In their denial of choice, they are a mirror to criminalisation and lack of access to safe abortion across the nation,” the statement added.
The feminists said unsafe abortion is one of the leading – but preventable – causes of maternal mortality globally, and that “a state that criminalises abortion (except to save the life of the mother) undertook this programme of forced abortions highlights its hypocrisy. It shows criminalisation is not about morality but about power over women and reducing us to vessels of procreation.”
For them, women deserve autonomy of their bodies, adding “women bodies are not battlegrounds.”
They further demand that the NHRC makes public the investigation, findings and recommendations in their entirety; ensures there are no reprisals against survivors and witnesses of these human rights violations against women and children for speaking out and respects their continued anonymity; works with existing service providers who support women associated with Boko Haram to extend comprehensive services to those subjected to forced abortions; recommends measures that ensure accountability for those who ordered these human rights violations against women and children, those responsible for perpetrating them, and their commanders “who knew what was happening but did nothing.”
They also sought that the commission should:
“Bring forced abortions and killings of children by security forces to an immediate end.
“Set out a plan for implementation of the recommendations made by the NHRC, including for accountability, and make this plan public.
“Adopt a civilian centric approach that: 1) end all human rights violations and ensures accountability for perpetrators; 2) track and mitigates civilian harm during operations; and 3) engage meaningfully with civilians – including with women, youth, people with disabilities and others normally socially excluded – in security decision making.
“Decriminalise abortion fully so women can choose whether or not they wish to continue pregnancy or, at the very least, expand the grounds for termination of pregnancy to include cases of rape and incest to strengthen the implementation of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act.”