By Rachel Ross, NOW Government Relations Intern
Over a month ago, terrorist organization Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of Nigerian girls (ages 16-18) from their (Chibok Government Girls Secondary School). According to accounts from the few girls who managed to escape the attack on the school, the girls were loaded onto trucks and driven into the forest. Since that initial attack, Boko Haram has snatched even more girls from Northern Nigeria, bringing the total count near 300. The girls, who had been taking their final exams, are thought to be still alive but hidden in dense forested locations or taken across international borders.
Boko Haram, an extremist Islamic organization based out of northern Nigeria, wants to gain political control of Nigeria and institute religious fundamentalist law. The group considers activities associated with Western societies (like voting, wearing western clothing, or education) heretical. The terrorist organization’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, has appeared in videos threatening to sell the girls into slavery. He has claimed to have converted them, and offered to trade the girls for the release of captured militants. In a recent video, 130 girls appeared veiled, chanting from the Quran.
As I prepare for my own final exams, I have been struck by the fact that I am only a few years older than these girls. I have never considered my education to be a political statement, and my heart aches knowing that these girls have not been so lucky. To extremists, girls with books are a credible threat. An educated girl is the silver bullet that defeats so many societal ills; an educated girl is more likely to have a smaller family, contributes and boosts a struggling economy, and has far more control over her own future.
These girls have been failed at every step of this ordeal. Reports from the region claim that the Nigerian government had advance warning about the attacks, and failed to send any protection for the school. When the attack was launched everyone, the girls were left asleep in their dorms. To add insult to injury, the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, failed to even make a statement acknowledging the girls’ abduction until several weeks after the attack. He initially refused offers of help from outside nations. His wife, Patience Jonathan, has claimed that the attacks were engineered to make her husband look bad.
Despite, or rather because of, the Nigerian government’s lack of effective action parents and loved ones of the abducted girls have staged protests and started #BringBackOurGirls. This campaign has trended around the world, bringing attention to the plight of these missing Nigerian girls. Nations around the world — including the U.S., U.K., China, and Israel — have offered to help the Nigerian government find the girls; Nigeria recently accepted help from the U.S. and there are now around 30 U.S. officials on the ground.
It is high time that these girls are returned to their families, their lives and their education. #BringBackOurGirls