May 24 (UPI) -- Nigerian soldiers and militia routinely raped women and girls they claimed to have rescued from the Boko Haram insurgency, Amnesty International said in a report released Thursday.
It was often in exchange for food as thousands starved to death around them, the international human rights group said. The troops separated women from their husbands and confined them in remote "satellite camps," Amnesty International said.
The soldiers seemed to abuse anyone who had a connection to Boko Haram, and called many of the women "Boko Haram wives" when they complained about their treatment. The terror group has carried out deadly attacks in Nigeria and has kidnapped more than 1,000 children in the country since 2013, the United Nations Children's Fund said this spring.
Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said it was shocking that women and girls were forced to succumb to rape to avoid starvation or hunger.
"Sex in these highly coercive circumstances is always rape, even when physical force is not used," he said in a statement.
Women told Amnesty International the sexual exploitation follows an organized system, in which the soldiers come into the camp for sex and choose the "very beautiful" women and girls. Women reported being too afraid to refuse demands for sex.
Amnesty International researcher Lauren Aarons wrote a story for Al Jazeera that detailed the conditions. In it, she described a woman who arrived at a displacement camp and was approached by a soldier with chicken and yams.
She remembered him beating her husband and taking him into detention, but she hadn't eaten in days. She accepted the food out of desperation, and when the soldier returned later to demand sex in exchange, she was too afraid to say no, Aarons wrote.
Coercing the women into sex for access to food amounts to rape under international law, Amnesty International said. The soldiers also used force when the women resisted, the group said.
The women and their families are also forced to live in appalling conditions that often lead to death. Women reported giving birth unassisted on the dirty floor of small huts, and almost half of the women Amnesty International spoke to in one camp said that one or more of their children had died.
Amnesty International documented the deaths of at least 37 women and children since 2015 due to the conditions.