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Julius and Joseph: 'Recruited' by Boko Haram

Insurgents tried to teach the boys how to fight with guns, beating them with iron rods if they refused. Their mother never gave up hope of finding them.

Learn more about the Lake Chad Crisis Mary* spent three years trying to find her two young sons who were abducted by armed Boko Haram insurgents when they launched an attack on their town in Borno state, Nigeria. Last month, she was finally reunited with Julius*, 16 and Joseph*, 14, when they managed to escape their captors and flee to Cameroon.

Julius and Joseph had been staying with their uncle when insurgents struck their town in 2014 and kidnapped the two brothers, taking them deep into the Sambisa forest along with other boys from the town. Before they left, they were forced to watch as their uncle was executed in front of them.

Violence has intensified

Millions of children have borne the brunt of the conflict in North East Nigeria. Violent attacks by Boko Haram, together with counter-insurgency measures, have been taking place since 2009 in the Lake Chad region and have intensified since 2013.

Over 17 million people across Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon have been affected. More than 2.3 million people have been forced from their homes, half of whom are children.

Boys held captive and beaten

The boys were held captive in the forest for three years along with other young prisoners: “They (insurgents) attempted to teach us how to fight with guns but one of their leaders stopped them arguing that we were too young,” Julius recalls.

Each time I refused to do their bidding, they hit my leg with iron rods. It hurt so much.

The children were made to watch when the militants killed people and commanded them to cover the spilt blood with sand. Showing the scars on his legs, Julius says: “each time I refused to do their bidding, they hit my leg with iron rods. It hurt so much.”

Joseph, the younger of the two boys adds: “We did not receive much food. Some 20 of us often had to share one meal. We barely managed to survive.”

At the end of 2016, while their captors were away from the camp raiding a community, the two brothers managed to escape. They navigated their way through the vast woods before crossing the border into Cameroon where they were taken to a refugee camp.

Mary never stopped searching

For the duration of their captivity, Mary never lost hope that she would find her boys and travelled thousands of miles following leads about their whereabouts. Once she heard that a group of unaccompanied children had arrived in Yola, so set out to search for them but they were not among them. This happened many times over the three years but she never gave up searching for them.

When she heard there were unaccompanied children in neighbouring Cameroon, she sold off all her possessions, including her mattress, to raise money for the journey. Despite being pregnant, she set off on the long journey and was overjoyed to find Julius and Joseph in one of the refugee camps.

Now home with her two sons, Plan International, in partnership with the German Federation Foreign Office (GFFO), is supporting Mary with food aid and providing the boys with the psychosocial support and the materials they needed to rebuild their lives and start the recovery process. Mary hopes that her children will return to school and will one day be able to live normal lives again.

Learn more about the Lake Chad Crisis

Read the latest from the Lake Chad Basin, read our frequently asked questions and hear more stories of the children who have been affected by conflict, violence, hunger and displacement. 

Learn more about the Lake Chad Crisis

*Names have been changed to protect identities