The family of abducted Nigerian Christian teenager Leah Sharibu has spoken out after reports published over the weekend suggested that their daughter has given birth to the son of a Boko Haram commander and that she was forced to accept Islam.
A source close to the Borno-based Islamic extremist group told Sahara Reporters that Sharibu has given birth to a baby boy after she was forced to accept Islam and forcefully married to an unnamed Boko Haram commander.
Dr. Gloria Puldu, a spokesperson for the family and a lecturer at the University of Jos, considered the reports to be nothing more than rumors.
“I have seen reports that Leah had a baby boy. That is just a rumor as far as we are concerned,” Puldu told The Punch. “What we even desire is to see a proof-of-life so that we see Leah by ourselves. If they are able to have Leah safe, we will understand.”
Sharibu was kidnapped along with over 110 other schoolgirls taken from a school in Dapchi in February 2018. Although about girls five died and all others were eventually released, Sharibu continues to be held by Boko Haram, which is known for its kidnappings and killings across the Lake Chad region.
Sharibu was reportedly held back by the terrorist group because she refused to renounce her faith in Christ.
Puldu stressed that the most important thing to the Sharibu family is to have their daughter back alive — with or without the rumored child.
“And if she is alive, we will praise God for that,” Puldu said. “They should release her, despite whatever condition she is in. That is all. It doesn’t matter whether she is pregnant or with a baby. Is it not better to have your child alive? So it doesn’t matter; all we are interested in is her life and safety.”
Puldu spoke with one woman who escaped from Boko Haram captivity last week.
“I was able to speak with her one-on-one and she told us that she did not see Leah in captivity, but she was with Alison Gada, who informed her that Leah was alive, healthy and not dead," Puldu said.
Sharibu’s father, Nathan, told the Hausa service of Voice of America that he has not been contacted by authorities with an update on his daughter and was not sure of the credibility of the recent reports.
Nigerian investigative journalist Ahmed Salkida, who regularly breaks news related to Boko Haram, offered his confirmation that Sharibu gave birth to a child.
“Why, I wonder, do we pretend that leaving Leah behind won't result in pregnancy?” Salkida wrote in a tweet. “Since the terror group announced condemning her to slavery, is there any step or collective focus on preventing similar occurrences? She's a mother, but I don't know about the gender of the baby.”
Dede Laugeson, the executive director of the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization Save the Persecuted Christians, told The Christian Post in a statement that Sharibu’s life is in a “constant horrific state of terror, violence, mental anguish, and rape.”
Save the Persecuted Christians collaborated with the International Committee on Nigeria and the Leah Foundation to bring Sharibu’s mother, Rebecca, to Washington, D.C., last June to advocate for her daughter’s release.
“The story of Leah, and the missing Chibok girls, and the Christian girls of Pakistan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq who are taken, tortured, and killed, cannot be forgotten,” Laugeson emphasized. “Christians who defend life must defend it even for the least of these mothers — no matter how they came to be mothers.”
Nigeria ranks as the 12th worst country in the world for Christian persecution on Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List. Although there were fewer Christians killed in Nigeria in 2020, Open Doors USA notes that it is because of a change of tactic by Boko Haram to focus on more kidnappings.
“They have gone from assassination and these kinds of things to roadside assaults on Christians and kidnappings,” Open Doors USA CEO David Curry said earlier this month.
Last week, Boko Haram executed Rev. Lawan Andimi, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria’s chapter in the Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa State. Andimi was taken captive by the group on Jan. 3.
The Christian Association of Nigeria called for three days of prayer and fasting following the news of Andimi’s killing.