On April 14, more than 300 school girls, according to the latest reports, were
kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram from a school in the northeastern Nigerian village of Chibok. The school was then set on fire by the militants. The girls, who range in age from roughly 12 to 18, according to differing reports, are thought to be held somewhere in the Sambisa forest—a 23,000-square-mile area of wilderness that is a stronghold for the Islamic insurgents.
The Guardian reports that family members of the girls have heard from sources who live in the Sambisa forest community that there have been mass forced “marriages” and girls are being “shared out” among the Boko Haram militants. The militants are also reportedly paying 2,000 naira—or $12—for each girl. There is yet to be any confirmation from independent sources that the marriage claims are accurate.
There have also been reports that the militants have taken an unknown number of the girls into the neighboring countries of Chad and Cameroon, as well as to an island in Lake Chad.
There have been conflicting reports on the number of girls kidnapped by the militants. Among other reasons, the school that was set on fire had taken in students from other schools for testing after attacks by Islamic extremists had shuttered all schools in Borno state, the Associated Press reports.
“The students were drawn from schools in Izge, Lassa, Ashigashiya and Warabe A. and that is why, after the unfortunate incident, there were various numbers flying around as to the actual number of girls that were taken away,” Borno Police Commissioner Tanko Lawan said at a news conference Thursday.
Agence France-Presse, government officials from the Nigerian state of Borno, where Chibok is located, claim that 129 girls were taken by the armed gunman and that 52 escaped. Family members of the girls and local community members have publicly rejected those claims. According to locals, at least 230 girls were taken and 187 are still being held.
The AP reports that local officials increased the estimated number of school girls captured to 276 on Friday, bringing the
total number of girls that were kidnapped on April 14 to more than 300. Commissioner Lawan also said on Thursday that the number of girls who ha ve escaped the terrorist group now stands at 53.
Reports indicate that the ordeal has been emotionally devastating for the family members of the girls. Each day the fathers, uncles, cousins, and nephews of the girls have been meeting at the burnt-out remains of the school in Chibok. There, they pool money for fuel, and begin searching through the forest. Yakubu Ubalala, the father of two daughters who were abducted talked the Guardian about the experience. “It’s unbearable,” said Ubalala. “Our wives have grown bitter and cry all day. The abduction of our children and the news of them being married off is like hearing of the return of the slave trade.”
The Nigerian military is conducting daily search and rescue operations in the forest
; however, one soldier told the Guardian that information is being leaked to the militants. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has previously stated that the militants have secret supporters within the Nigerian government.
There are reports that the militants are in contact with an intermediary, and that they have been negotiating with the Nigerian government. There have been conflicting reports on the health and well-being of the girls in captivity, as well as their locations. The latest reports indicate that the militants are “willing to consider” the release of the girls who are currently in the country. There is no information on the conditions of any agreement that would lead to the girls’ release.
The inability of the Nigerian government to recover the girls has led to growing frustration on the ground. Hundreds of women gathered in the capital city on Wednesday to call for justice and demand action. After gathering
at Eagle Square in the capital, the women, clad in black, marched to the National Assembly and submitted a protest letter.
There also has been calls to release the names and pictures of the kidnapped girls. The National Women Leader of the Peoples Democratic Party,
Kema Chikwe, called for action Monday during a prayer session for the unity of the country. “We plead with the school authorities to release their names and their pictures. Let God touch the hearts of those who know and have perpetrated this heinous action,” she said.
Activists have taken to social media and other platforms to demand action. The hashtags #BringBackOurGirls and #WhereAreOurGirls have been used on Twitter to raise awareness of the situation. A petition on Change.org, which at the time of publication has been signed by more than 136,000 people, is calling on President Jonathan and the Nigerian government to “ensure all schools are safe places to learn, protected from attack.”
There has been much criticism for the relative lack of coverage by Western media outlets. Until this week, the majority of the media coverage was by African media outlets, while the Guardian and the BBC were the only two Western outlets to have covered the story before this week.
Niama Safia Sandy, writing at the Feminist Wire, raised questions as to why Western media has until recently ignored the story. Sandy also noted that
Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 received constant media coverage for weeks, while several countries expended countless military resources in the search and rescue efforts.
Is it because their lives and innocence are considered less worthwhile, less deserving of protection because they are girls? Because they are from a place that does not mean enough to the rest of the world? History has shown these are all valid assumptions.
The United States has offered assistance in recovery of the abducted girls. Reuters reports that state department spokesperson Marie Harf said Thursday that the United States has been “engaged with the Nigerian government in discussions” on what
the nation might be able to do . During fiscal year 2012, the United States provided more than $20 million in military assistance to Nigeria to help build up the country’s military and increase its capacity to respond to terrorist attacks.