May 4th, 2016
Six hundred and sixty five days and counting; What has happened to the lost girls of Chibok?
Imagine yourself aged seventeen, the night before an important final exam. You have been working hard for this, as it will allow you to leave school and find a job. You know that there has been a lot of unrest recently in your area1; you have been kept away from school and your parents are concerned about you going back in to sit your exams. You reassure them that you will be fine- there are hundreds of other girls going in to school for the exams- and besides, this is important. You venture into school, noticing the guards outside, and feel safe. Your main concern is the upcoming exam, and whether you have revised enough to pass. This will soon be a distant memory, as the unthinkable unfolds overnight.
On April 14th 2014, a large group of school girls were kidnapped from their boarding house during the night by the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram2. The security guards around the school were shot and the girls inside were loaded onto trucks and driven away, perhaps to the Sambisa forest, where Boko Haram are known to have camps2. The number of those kidnapped was initially placed at 85, then 100, then 234. The final number rested at 276, of which 219 are still missing3.
This immediate lack of information regarding the actual number of girls who had been kidnapped paved the way for the messy series of events that followed. A few days after, the Nigerian army announced that they had ‘rescued’ all but eight of the girls, only to later retract this statement and admit that the rescue was in fact fabricated and no progress had been made on their liberation4. A month after the kidnapping, the Nigerian President spoke about the lack of progress in finding the girls and asked for “the assistance of parents and local communities” 5 to help authorities search for the girls; a statement which was interpreted by some families as a suggestion that it was them who had hindered the search effort.
Here at the crest of 2016, the 219 missing girls are far from the front pages of the newspapers or social media sites. A hashtag and online campaign which once took the internet by storm –#bringbackourgirls – now lies dormant, still waiting for those 219 girls to be brought back. How is it that 219 lives can be forgotten by the world?
This is, of course, not the only time that girls have gone missing in Nigeria. Although this particular story caught the headlines, if only for a short while during 2014, Amnesty International has estimated that Boko Haram has abducted at least 2,000 people from northern Nigeria since 20096. A report by HART in Nigeria in 2015 spoke to various local communities, some of whom felt troubled by the international focus on the girls of Chibok, while Boko Haram has been using abductions on a large scale to incite terror for years7. The true scale of the problem is bigger than the ‘Girls of Chibok’, however the international community seems to be suffering compassion fatigue for this ever-growing problem.
We may never find out the fate of these girls. During Boko Haram raids, women and girls specifically are often separated, and taken to remote camps6. Reports from Amnesty International suggest that many captured females are forced into marriages, where some are submitted to rape and domestic labour6. Perhaps more worrying is the increase in women and children being used as suicide bombers in crowded public places. UNICEF reports that of the 26 suicide attacks reports in Northeast Nigeria during 2014, some three quarters of those involved women and children8.
It is people such as these, whose collective voices are not being heard, who HART supports through aid and advocacy. HART’s recent report from their visit to Nigeria outlined the need to direct funds towards the most vulnerable groups in collaboration with local partners, and to gather first hand accounts of the tragedies of Boko Haram7. We can support this goal by supporting HART, amongst other organisations, including Amnesty International and Bring Back Our Girls. On a personal level, we can remember that every life deserves to be grieved for; every disappearance deserves to be investigated. We must not allow ourselves to become complacent to any suffering, even if it is on a scale larger than we can comprehend.
1. Associated Press in Maiduguri. Nigerian state closes schools amid fears of Boko Haram attack. The Guardian [Internet]. 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/18/nigeria-state-closes-schools-fears-boko-haram
- Associated Press in Maiduguri. Schoolgirls kidnapped by suspected Islamists in Nigeria. The Guardian [Internet]. 2014. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/ world/2014/apr/15/schoolgirls-kidnapped-suspected-islamists-nigeria.
- Bring Back Our Girls. What are we demanding: bring back our girls, now and alive! 2016 [Accessed 07/02/2016]. Available from: http://www.bringbackourgirls.ng/.
- apa-AP. 230 schoolgirls still missing after Boko Haram raid The Times [Internet]. 2014. Available from: http://www.timeslive.co.za/africa/2014/04/22/230-schoolgirls-still-missing-after-boko-haram-raid.
- BBC News. Nigeria missing girls: President makes first comments BBC News: Africa [Internet]. 2014 [Accessed 07/02/2016]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-27280187.
- Amnesty International. ‘Our job is to shoot, slaughter and kill’- Boko Haram’s reign of terror in North-East Nigeria 2015 [Accessed 08/02/2016]. Available from: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr44/1360/2015/en/.
- North Nigeria Visit Report 2015 [Accessed 08/02/2016]. Available from: https://www.hart-uk.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/HART-North-Nigeria-Report-2015.pdf.
- Northeast Nigeria: Alarming spike in suicide attacks involving women and girls – UNICEF. UNICEF [Internet]. 2015 [Accessed 08/02/2016]. Available from: http://www.unicef.org/media/media_82047.html.
Disclaimer: This blog is a space for discussion and personal reflection. Any opinions expressed within the blog are those of the author and are not necessarily held by HART. Individual authors are responsible for the accuracy of statements made within the blog.
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