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Investigation uncovers Nigerian military’s secret mass abortion programme

The Nigerian military has been running a secret illegal mass abortion programme since at least 2013 that has resulted in at least 10,000 abortions, according to a Reuters report.

The Reuters report is based on interviews with Nigerian women and girls, a number of civilian healthcare workers and security personnel, military documents, and hospital records. The news outlet found evidence that at least 10,000 forced abortions had been performed, sometimes on girls as young as 12, and that some women have died as a result.

The right to life for unborn children is recognised in Nigeria, so abortion is illegal. Nigerian military leaders, however, have denied that any such forced abortions have taken place.

The women, girls and unborn children who are the victims of this barbarity are caught in a struggle in north east Nigeria between the Government and Islamist extremists. As many as 300,000 people have died in this ongoing conflict. Many of the victims of forced abortion had been raped by militants and, upon their liberation by Government forces, were forced to undergo abortions often with no knowledge of what was happening to them. If the women resisted, they were beaten, held at gunpoint and drugged into compliance.

As Reuters explains, many in the military and the civilian population in that part of Nigeria believe that the children of the Islamic militants are determined to one day take up arms against the Nigerian government by virtue of “the blood in their veins”.

A civilian health worker, who admitted to performing abortions under army orders, said “It’s just like sanitising the society”.

“We do this kind of procedure to them in order to save them from the stigma or the problem that will arise in the future [with an Islamic militant’s child]”, a health worker told Reuters. If the women refuse, “we normally leave them restrained by tying their legs and their hands on a bed”.

If “they’re restless on the bed, so that we cannot perform our procedure, we normally give them mild sedation so they will go to sleep”, the person said.

Women were beaten if they refused to have an abortion

The figure of 10,000 forced abortions comes from patient registers, individuals, and civilian and military who have admitted to being involved in the programme. However, military documents obtained by Reuters indicate that the true number could be far higher.

At one military base outside Maiduguri in the north east of the country, Reuters reviewed documents that indicate that 5,200 abortions were performed at the base between 2017 and 2019. Two of the soldiers involved with the abortions at this base said that this figure did not include those women who had died.

Reuters recounts one harrowing tale from a woman named Fati. Fati had been captured by militants after they invaded her hometown of Monguno in 2017. She was forced to marry three militants, forced to have a new husband each time one of them failed to return from war. The third, the father of her child, “was the worst out of all of them”, she said. “He would hit me with the butt of his gun … He would beat me until I was sick”.

When she was rescued by government soldiers about two years later, she “was extremely grateful to the soldiers”.

However, when she was taken to the local hospital, soldiers began injecting her against her will with an unknown substance. Fati said “They just said we were not healthy enough”.

Fati started to experience searing abdominal pains after about four hours and began to bleed all over the floor. Shortly after, she said that she and six other women who had almost been forcibly injected “were writhing in pain on the floor”.

The soldiers had performed an abortion on her without her knowledge or consent. They said to her “If you share this with anyone, you will be seriously beaten”.

Another woman, Bintu Ibrahim, who underwent a similar ordeal said “If they had left me with the baby, I would have wanted it”.

Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said “The human suffering that these women had to undergo is heartbreaking. First, so many of them underwent the horror of rape, then, to make matters worse, had their own children taken from them in abortions that so many didn’t want. This is rape and abortion being used as weapons of war, and the innocent women, girls and their unborn babies are the primary victims. If the Reuters reporting is accurate, these heinous actions in Nigeria must be stopped and investigated immediately.”

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