Nigeria’s military has denied conducting a years-long illicit programme to carry out abortions among women and girls who have been victims of armed groups in the northwest, a claim reported by Reuters on Wednesday.
“Since at least 2013, the Nigerian military has conducted a secret, systematic and illegal abortion programme in the country’s northeast, ending at least 10,000 pregnancies among women and girls,” the news agency said.
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It said many of the women and girls had been kidnapped and raped by armed fighters, adding that those who resisted an abortion ran the risk of being “beaten, held at gunpoint or drugged into compliance.”
The report was based on witness statements from 33 women and girls, five health workers, and nine security personnel involved in the alleged programme, and on military documents and hospital records “describing or tallying thousands of abortion procedures”.
Most of the abortions, Reuters said, were carried out without the woman’s consent and some were conducted without their prior knowledge, through abortion-inducing pills or injections passed off as medications to boost health or combat disease. The agency was unable to establish who created the abortion program or determine who in the military or government ran it.
United States Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said on Wednesday that Washington was looking into the report.
“It was a harrowing report. … It’s a concerning report and for that reason, we are seeking further information,” he said.
Northeastern Nigeria is the epicentre of a conflict spearheaded by armed groups, most notably Boko Haram in 2009.
More than 40,000 people have been killed and about two million people displaced in the long-running conflict, which has spilled into neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
In its reaction, the Nigerian army lashed the report as “a body of insults on the Nigerian peoples and culture. Nigerian military personnel have been raised, bred and further trained to protect lives,” it said.
“[The] Nigerian military will not, therefore, contemplate such evil of running a systematic and illegal abortion programme anywhere and anytime, and surely not on our own soil.”
Religion plays a core part in Nigerian life, with Islam as the dominant faith in the north of the country, and Christianity in the south.
Abortion is illegal in the country except when the mother’s life is in danger.
In the north, illegal pregnancy termination carries the risk of a 14-year jail term.