ABUJA – Tired of watching her five children go hungry in a camp for people fleeing Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria, Amina Ali Pulka decided to befriend a young man who worked in the kitchen.
Desperate due to the lack of aid distributed at the Bakassi camp in the city of Maiduguri, the 30-year-old had sex with the man in exchange for extra food to give to her children.
“I did it because I had nobody to feed me or clothe me,” Pulka told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone, adding that the man, who like her had been uprooted by Boko Haram violence, also gave her money, which she used to buy soap and other items.
Pulka is one of many women in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in northeast Nigeria who are selling sex in exchange for food, soap and money, said medical charity International Medical Corps (IMC) and Nigerian research group NOI Polls.
Aid agencies have warned of starvation, malnutrition and dwindling food supplies for the displaced in Borno State.
“At times, the food is not enough so the women resort to giving themselves for food and money,” said Hassana Pindar of the IMC, which runs support centers for women in the camps.
Boko Haram violence has left more than 65,000 people living in famine in the northeast, with 1 million others at risk, and more than half of children under 5 are malnourished in some areas of Borno state, a coalition of aid groups said last week.
The Islamist militant group has killed about 15,000 people and displaced more than 2 million in Nigeria in a seven-year insurgency aimed at creating a state adhering to Islamic laws.
A military offensive has driven Boko Haram from much of the territory it held in northern Nigeria, but the militants have continued to carry out suicide bombings and raids in northeast Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
Almost 90 percent of people uprooted by Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria do not have enough to eat, according to a survey last week by NOI Polls, which found that many women are trading sex for food and the freedom to move in and out of IDP camps.
The pollsters said that sexual abuse was a concern, and that the displaced accused camp officials of perpetrating it in two thirds of cases.
Hundreds of the displaced staged a protest last month in Maiduguri, accusing state officials of stealing food rations, prompting Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to order police to arrest and make an example of the culprits.
In addition to mothers desperate to provide for their children, many teenage girls in Bakassi camp are sleeping with men in exchange for food, said IMC volunteer Fatima Alhaji.
“Some go out to beg on the streets, others go out of the camp to look for menial jobs, while others use their bodies to get food and money,” she said. “Everybody is talking about it.”
Five months pregnant, Pulka has been abandoned by the kitchen worker, while she has not seen her husband, who lives in the capital of Abuja with another of his wives, for three years.
Pulka said her husband, who has not visited the camp or sent any money, refused to come and take the children under his care.
Her oldest daughter, 15, is distraught about her pregnancy.
“She asks me why I am pregnant when their father has been away for three years … other people in the camp also ask me questions,” Pulka said. “I did it because of my children.”
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