Lately, you may have seen this hashtag, “#BringBackOurGirls”, all over the Internet . You might know that “something” happened with some girls, but not enough to really speak on it. Personally, I felt a little confused about all of the information that I was hearing in bits and pieces; however, I knew this was not the type of issue that I should ignore. I did some digging and wanted to share with you so that you could understand why this issue is such a big deal.
Who was taken and when did this happen:
A large number of Nigerian girls were kidnapped from their all-girls school more than three weeks ago; however, this situation did not receive international attention until about 7 days ago. The security guards at the school were overpowered by members of a regional terrorist group called Boko Haram, who has publicly claimed responsibility for kidnapping the girls.
It is unclear exactly how many girls have been taken. Various sources estimate the numbers at figures like “over 200” and “more than 250” as well as more specific numbers ranging from 223 – 300. Further, there are reports that up to 50 girls have escaped. In addition to the mass kidnapping, on Wednesday, May 7, 2014, an additional eight girls between 12 – 15 years old were reportedly taken from the Village of Warabe.
Who took them and why they were taken:
The regional terrorist group who the girls kidnapped them on the night that they’d assembled to take an exam at the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, in the northeastern part of the country, which appears not to be coincidental as Boko Haram’s name roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden.”
Boko Haram receives funding and support from Al-Qaeda (Bin Laden’s “associates”) and is allegedly trying to create a radical (extremist) Islamic State in Nigeria. Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram said in a video, “God instructed me to sell them. They are his properties, and I will carry out his instructions.” Rumors have surfaced that the girls may have been sold as “brides” to men in Chad and Cameroon for as little as $12. Young girls bring a higher price whether they are sold as child brides, domestic workers or prostitutes.
Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, who runs a shelter for abducted girls in Uganda, says that child marriage just a euphemism for systematic rape. “This is not marriage,” she says. “They are being given in sex slavery. This is human trafficking. We should call evil by its name.” Sub-Saharan Africa is home to over 16% of the 29.8 million enslaved people in the world, and now these girls have likely joined their ranks.
One of the girls who escaped said that she and the other girls soon realized that they were in danger although they were initially told that nothing bad would happen to them. One of the vehicles in the caravan that was taking them away broke down. It was at that time that she and a friend ran. She told that friend, “they can shoot me if they want but I don’t want to know what they are going to do with me otherwise.”
Where are the girls, and how are they doing?
The leader of the group that took them has reported that two of the girls have died and that 11 of them are sick: this is the only available information about the status of the girls. The girls have been taken to a forest near the border of Cameroon. Parts of this area are not under the control of the Nigerian government. Finally, in addition to the approximately 50 girls who escaped during the initial kidnapping attack, seven more girls have reportedly escaped.
Why is it so hard to get them back?
According to the parents of two the taken girls, no visible signs of a serious search and rescue effort can be seen. On the other hand, the spokesperson for Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan, says that the country has directed its military to take action. He also says, however, that Nigeria is “not America”; therefore, he is not broadcasting all of the steps that the government and military have taken.
On the other hand, there is speculation and criticism that the Nigerian government is doing very little to rescue the girls and tried to keep a lid on this issue because they are hosting the World Economic Forum which runs TODAY through May 9, 2014 and didn’t want to be embarrassed. Essentially, Nigeria has become Africa’s largest economy and wants to continue to grow; however, situations like this one may diminish its ability to attract international investment. Not only did Nigerian officials not address this issue, they initially reported mis-information stating that the girls had been returned. They were forced to withdraw those statements only a day after making them.
According to an Islamic scholar close to the situation, “The only way to get the girls back is through negotiation” and that the militants are willing to free the girls for a ransom. Nigeria’s Channel 4 News interviewed a hostage negotiator who claimed to be in contact with Boko Haram said, “It would not be hard to engineer a deal. It looks like they want to release them.” The same negotiator also cautioned that “kidnappers have warned, however, that attempts by the military to launch a rescue attempt ‘may result in the deaths of many of the captives.’”