A call for action: SGBV in the Lake Chad Basin crisis
Sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) is a core - though often hidden - dimension of the protection crisis in the Lake Chad Basin. The humanitarian response has lagged far behind the needs, and there is a need to increase preventive measures and ensure a holistic response to survivors, taking into account not only short, but also longer term needs.
Boko Haram tactics have included the abduction of women and girls primarily for sexual abuse, forced marriages and labor, and the kidnapping of boys to join as fighters.1 In Cameroon, women and girls reportedly make up the majority of some 1,000 persons abducted by Boko Haram since March 2014.2 Those who are able to escape Boko Haram captivity often face stigma and discrimination by their communities, and other barriers to reintegration.3 Women and girls who were compelled to become wives of insurgents, often referred to as “Boko Haram women” or “Sambisa women” face social marginalization and are treated with suspicion that they may have been indoctrinated.4
Among displaced communities, the risk of SGBV has increased with the breakdown of family and community structures, changes in social and gender roles or responsibilities and increased socio-economic vulnerability. Humanitarian protection actors have observed a rise in harmful traditional practices, in particular forced and early marriage among displaced populations. In the Diffa region of Niger, a 2016 survey conducted by DRC found a prevalence of forced marriage in 26 of 42 sites assessed, and early marriage in 31. 5 Domestic violence is also on the rise.
While SGBV goes largely under-reported due to stigma and cultural taboos, there are reports of increased incidents among the displaced. In Nigeria, first assessments in the North East have identified over 7,000 survivors of SGBV6 and a May 2016 protection sector assessment revealed that over half of internally displaced person (IDP) sites around Maiduguri reported cases of sexual exploitation and survival sex, including in exchange for food assistance and to gain freedom of movement in/out of camps.7 Many also reported cases of rape, sexual abuse and sexual harassment.8
A UNFPA report published in September 2016 found that about half of sexual violence cases identified in Northeast Nigeria were due to Boko Haram insurgents, 23.7% were unknown and 17.8% were members of the police and armed forces.9
Further challenges are the prevalence of impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence in all affected countries and the need to strengthen legal frameworks and ensure access to justice. In Chad, SGBV tends to be resolved by traditional leaders without consideration for national laws punishing SGBV, and impunity prevails in most cases.10
Survivors and people at risk face significant challenges in accessing services, such as legal aid and psychosocial support. The capacity of local communities remains weak to effectively prevent and respond to SGBV incidents. Communities play a key role in identifying and responding to reintegration needs of survivors. Organizations and institutions capable of providing adequate support to survivors are also lacking.