On April 16, 234 girls between the ages of 16 and 18 were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Nigeria during the night as they prepared for their final exams. Most are still missing.
Though no group has claimed responsibility, the Boko Haram jihadist network is believed to be behind it. The group’s name translates to “Western education is forbidden” and seeks to destroy anything that does not agree with strict interpretation of Islamic texts, such as the idea of a spherical Earth, evolution, or the water cycle. Education of women is also forbidden. They have a history of violence in the area and have killed more than 1,500 people already this year in a series of attacks against schools, mosques, villages, military installations, and public areas.
Boko Haram’s violence caused many schools to be shut down, though this particular boarding school in northeast Borno had opened specifically for the students to take their final exams. After killing a police officer and soldier guarding the school, a group of men held the students at gunpoint and loaded over 200 of them onto a series of 11 flatbed trucks. The school was then set on fire.
The parents of the abducted girls immediately began to pool resources and form search parties. They hired people to drive cars and motorcycles to search the Sambisa forest, and though they went about 30 miles deep into the woods, there was no trace of the girls or their captors. The parents had hoped that the Nigerian government would have deployed the military to find their daughters, but were greatly disappointed when nothing was done. Not only was nothing done, but the Defense Ministry initially released a statement that the girls had been returned. When parents of the still-missing girls spoke out and said it was a lie, the statement was retracted.
Some of the girls were able to escape from the forest by jumping of the bed of the truck and running out of the woods. As of Friday, the school reported that 43 of the girls had been able to return home. Though the outlook may look bleak for the girls still held captive, Boko Haram has previously held girls in servitude for cooking or sex, so there is still hope that they are still alive.
There has been an egregious lack of effort on the government’s part to locate the girls. One soldier told the BBC that their government-issued weapons are no match for Boko Haram, which has much more sophisticated firepower. The Defense Ministry itself, however, is not even properly addressing the scope of the problem, and has not ordered action into finding these girls. They claim to have rescued a large number of the girls (about twice as many as have actually returned home. Additionally, they were not rescued; they escaped.) and report that only about 77 are still missing, instead of the 187 as reported by parents and the school.
There is currently no indication that outside help is coming from the UN or anywhere else to search for these girls.
So what can you and I do about this? In truth, not a lot, but “not a lot” is still more than nothing. If you are reading this story, you are able to share it. Though this story has received some coverage by major news outlets, it hasn’t been well publicized. On the front pages of CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC (at the time of this publication) you will not see a single word about the fact that over 230 girls were abducted at gunpoint because they dared to get an education. The CNN app did send out a breaking news push notification when it was made public that Chelsea Clinton is pregnant the day after the abduction, however.
Will armchair activism work in this case? If we make enough noise, perhaps it will put some pressure on the powers that be to address the problem and act. Though online petitions are a dime a dozen, one has been started at change.org to urge Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, to have UN Women and UNICEF make this abduction a priority and to pressure the Nigerian government to actually try to find the girls. At the time of this writing, there are 17,750 signatures on the petition. To make a comparison, the petition to bring back Brian on Family Guy received 128,497 signatures.
Additionally, when you share this story on social media, use the hashtags #BringBackOurDaughters, #BringBackOurGirls, and #HelpTheGirls. You can contact the UN office of your home country and urge them to act on this important matter. For those in the United States, you can also contact your senators and representatives and ask them to shine a light on this situation.
The fact that this happened is an absolute travesty, and staying silent on the issue only empowers extremists like Boko Haram.
Hat tip io9.com