Nightmare for Nigeria’s School Girls

Girls in school in Nigeria Image: Naija247News
Girls in school in Nigeria
Image: Naija247News

 

On the night of April 14, dozens of armed men showed up at the dormitory of the Government Girls Secondary school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria.  Dressed in Nigerian military uniforms, they told the girls that they were there to take them to safety and herded the girls into trucks and onto motorcycles.  At first, the girls believed them. But when the men started shooting their guns into the air and shouting, “Allahu Akbar,”  they realized that the men were militants from Boko Haram and that they were in serious danger.

Forty-three girls managed to escape by running away or jumping out of the trucks. But as many as 234 school girls between the ages of 12 and 17 were kidnapped, disappearing into the night without a trace. (Update 5/4/14: it is now believed that as many at 276 girls were abducted.) Two weeks later, their parents still have no idea where they are. And yesterday, village elders from Chibok told reporters that they had received information that the abducted girls were taken across the borders to Chad and Cameroon and sold as brides to Islamist militants for 2,000 naira (about $12).

While unconfirmed, these reports are a chilling reminder of the threat of sexual violence faced by women and girls in conflict zones. 

The girls who were abducted were targeted simply because they were exercising their right to go to school, out of the ordinary for a girl in Nigeria. Access to basic education for girls has remained low, particularly in the northern region which has the  lowest girl child enrollment in Nigeria —in 2008 the net enrollment rate for girls into secondary school was only 22 percent.  The girls (who were both Christian and Muslim) at the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok must each have been determined to get an education in spite of tremendous odds.  The fact that these girls were also risking violence to be in school illustrates how important the right to education was to each of them.

How could this happen? And why?
Boko Haram is a violent insurgent group that has killed thousands of people since 2009, purportedly in an attempt to establish an Islamist state in northern Nigeria. Although the Nigerian government has issued a state of emergency in three northern states, attacks on villages in northern Nigeria have displaced more than 470,000 people—mostly women and children, according to the UN High Commissioner for RefugeesSince early 2014, Boko Haram’s attacks have been increasingly violent, targeting remote villages, markets, hospitals, and schools.  Boko Haramis responsible for at least 1500 deaths so far in 2014.

Boko Haram also has a history of taking hostages as “slaves.” In May 2013, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Sheku released a video saying that Boko Haram had taken women and children, including teenage girls, as hostages as part of its latest campaign. These hostages would be treated as “slaves,” he said.  This has raised concern among the family members of those abducted that “Boko Haram is adhering to the ancient Islamic belief that women captured during war are slaves with whom their ‘masters’ can have sex.  Regardless of alleged rationale, enslavement, imprisonment, forced labor, rape and sexual slavery are all serious violations of international law.  They are defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as crimes against humanity.

The group has repeatedly attacked schools in northern Nigeria. Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden”  in the Hausa language. Boko Haram has set schools on fire and detonated bombs at university campus churches. In early February, armed gunmen abducted 20 female students at Goverment Girls Science College in the village of Konduga. On February 24, 2014, members of Boko Haram attacked and killed more than 40 male students at Federal Government College in Buni Yadi village and abducted an unknown number of female students. After these attacks, many schools in northeastern Nigeria were closed. The school where the abductions took place was closed as well, but local education officials decided to briefly reopen the Chibok school to allow the girls to take their exams.  

The mass kidnapping  in April was unprecedented and shocking. Even more shocking – after more than two weeks, the Nigerian government has done very little to find and rescue the girls.

The lack of government response has provoked outrage in Nigeria. On Wednesday, several hundred participated in a “million-woman protest march” in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital to demand that more resources be put toward finding and securing the kidnapped girls. The protesters in Nigeria are joined on Twitter with a growing movement under the hashtags #BringBackOurGirls, #BringBackOurDaughters and #234Girls. There is also a Change.org petition to Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan asking him to do more to save the abducted girls and ensure that schools in Nigeria are safe.

One man, whose daughter was abducted along with his two nieces, said his wife has hardly slept since the attack. She lies awake at night “thinking about our daughter”.  As the mother of a young school girl myself, I feel deeply for her. The continuing tragedy of these young Nigerian school girls is every parent’s worst nightmare.

It’s time for world to wake up to the escalating violence in Nigeria, as well as the Nigerian government’s lack of response.

Originally published on The Advocates Post.

 

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7 thoughts on “Nightmare for Nigeria’s School Girls

  1. This is heartbreaking. I saw a woman on the news last night in Nigeria talking about the almost zero effort the government has put in to finding these girls. My mind has trouble understanding that.

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  2. My heart goes out to the parents but also the girls themselves. It’s hard to imagine the mindset of the men who did this and the belief systems they are embracing. Demented, backwards, violent, cruel are words that come to mind. I hope that all of the girls will be able to safely return to their families (my idealist mind); but my rational mind knows all too well what is more likely to happen to them….

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  3. Thank you for your comments everyone! It’s just a terrible situation on so many levels – girls should be valued, schools should be safe, etc. President Goodluck Jonathan reportedly met “through the night” with security, school and state officials and issued a new directive that “everything must be done” to bring back the more the girls. Ridiculous that it has taken so long (and that it has taken pressure from both inside and outside Nigeria) to finally bring about action. Standing in solidarity with the girls and their families #BringBackOurGirls!

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  4. Winnie

    I am Nigerian and this story affects me a great deal.

    1. it is very sad that most of the similar stories don’t get global coverage (this is not the 1st, 2nd , 3rd or 4th time this is occurring) considering the fact that Nigeria is an oil rich state .
    2. truth be hold, our government is inept and nonchalant towards tackling insecurity in the country, the only reason the government is speaking up about this incidence (more than 2 weeks after) is because of the world economic forum that Nigeria is hosting and international pressure
    3. Nigeria’s first lady has lashed out on the protesters for trying to make her husband’s administration look bad and scuttle his chance of re-election in 2015, as a result, she ‘ordered’ the arrest of the protest leader. she said categorically in her own words that ‘this matter should die in borno, don’t use school girls for politics’

    we here in nigeria are so angry and feel very helpless, the government and opposition leaders have politicized this, while our daughters are still in captivity. the government offoicials do not want to listen to ‘ordinary’ people. and word has it that the Nigerian press have been ordered to kill the story, the same way they have killed the others.

    pls this is a passionate plea to the international community to keep this story alive until our girls are returned home safely.

    PLEASE i beg you!

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  5. Pingback: Raising My Voice To #BringBackOurGirls | The Human Rights Warrior

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