Journalism of Courage

Boko Haram Militants Drown My 3-Year-Old Son, Rape and Impregnated Me, Borno Woman Tells Pope in Italy

A woman who had to watch her 3-year-old son drown in a river before she was raped and forced to carry the child of a Boko Haram fighter, shared her traumatic story with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Rebecca Bitrus told Pope Francis about the horrors she has suffered in the hands of Boko Haram.

“My husband alerted me they were coming and then ran for his dear life,” Bitrus said.

Bitrus revealed that while her husband managed to escape in August 2014 when Boko Haram, attacked her town, she and her two young children were captured.

She was taken with her children to a forest encampment, where the terrorists attempted to force her to convert to Islam, but she refused.

“They told me, ‘You’re not going back to your brothers and sisters who are infidels.

“One of the Boko Haram said, ‘You’re not ready to convert to Islam, so I’m going to teach you a lesson,'” she said, recalling how her 3-year-old son Jonathan was tossed into a nearby river, where she was forced to watch him drown.

Fearing for the life of her 5-year-old son, Zachary, Bitrus said that she agreed to “go through the motions of Islamic devotion.

“They would come on us with their guns and force us to pray. Each time I bent down to pray, I was reciting the ‘Hail Mary’ and the ‘Our Father,'” the  Catholic woman said.

“I’m convinced that’s what saved me.”

Bitrus was then married off to one of the Boko Haram militants, who raped her on numerous occasions over several months, eventually leading her to give birth to a male child, who she called Christopher.


Rebecca Bitrus. (Credit: Claire Giangravé/Crux.)

After two years of captivity she managed to escape when Nigerian troops engaged Boko Haram radicals in a battle, but pondered leaving behind Christopher, who was a heavy reminder of what she had suffered. She even laid him down on the forest floor and began to walk away, but her eldest son changed her mind.

“Zachary told me, ‘Jonathan isn’t here anymore, I don’t have a little brother, so why don’t you take Christopher?'” she recalled.

The mother decided to pick up the baby and take him with them.

“As soon as I left the camp and we got away, I knew God was going to protect me,” she said. “I put my trust in God.”

Eventually, Bitrus said, they stumbled across a community which pointed them in the direction of nearby Nigerian troops.

“They were very skeptical of me and said, ‘You must be Boko Haram.’ I told them I wasn’t, that I was one of the women they abducted and now I’ve escaped.”

She told the soldiers her name was Rebecca – even that, she explained, was a small act of liberation, since her captors had forced her to take the name “Miriam.”

“One of the soldiers who was a Muslim told me, ‘If you’re a Catholic, prove it,’ and asked me to recite some Christian prayers. I prayed some ‘Hail Mary’s’ on my fingers, and when I came to the tenth one, I said the ‘Glory Be’ and made the Sign of the Cross,” she said. With that, the troops were convinced, and after having her treated in a nearby hospital, they transported her to her hometown of Maiduguri in northern Nigeria.

She again thought about giving away Christopher for adoption.

“I wanted to give him to someone else who would take care of him, but the bishop helped me to accept him,” she said, referring to Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri.

“He told me, ‘Who knows who this child will become? He could be very special to you in the future,'” she said. “That helped me to have a positive attitude about everything I’d gone through.”


Boko Haram, which has kidnapped and forced into marriages thousands of women and girls in Nigeria, including many Christians, continues its horrific practices.

The terror group Kidnapped 110 schoolgirls in a raid in Yobe State last month, leading President Muhammadu Buhari to declare a “national disaster.



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