It’s been two weeks since 234 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped from their school and they are no closer to being found. The kidnapping is believed to be orchestrated by a group of Islamist militants called Boko Haram (whose name translates to “Western Education Is Sine”), though they have yet to claim responsibility for the mass abduction. Boko Haram has ties to Al Qaeda and is especially opposed to education for girls.
The girls, ages 15-18, were kidnapped at gunpoint on April 16 when militants stormed the Government Girls’ Secondary School boarding school in Chibok, in the rural northeastern state of Borno. Their school was the only one still open in the area; all other nearby schools were closed due to security threats. Despite the presence of guards, the girls were taken at gunpoint, loaded into trucks and carted off to the nearby Sambisa forest. Not much has been done by Nigerian security leaders to ensure the girls’ rescue, and their families have received little information.
It’s a tragic, gut-wrenching story that we wish was getting more international attention from world leaders. Here are five essential things to know about the kidnapping.
1. This is not the first time Boko Haram has wreaked havoc in the region. Northeastern Nigeria, which has a mixed Christian and Muslim population, has been in a state of emergency for a year. About 1,500 people have died this year in the conflict between the militants and Nigerian security forces and over half of them were civilians. In February, the group was responsible for the murder of 59 students. Boko Haram has terrorized markets, churches and mosques, as well as other schools. In previous raids on schools, NPR reports, they have left girls alone or freed them.
2. Misinformation is rampant. Last week, Nigeria’s military announced that all but eight of the girls had been rescued, a statement they were soon forced to retract when it was discovered to be a blatant lie. The specific number of girls taken has also fluctuated from report to report, along with other basic facts about the situation.
3. Up to 30 girls managed to escape. A few students managed to break free, either by jumping from the back of open trucks or running away. Escapee Godiya Usman, who fled the kidnappers, told the UK’s Guardian that she is racked with survivor’s guilt. As the militants drove the girls deeper into the forest, they’d stop at each village they passed along the way, burning homes and shooting locals. Usman urged her friends, who’d been jammed into the back of a truck alongside her, to jump out of the vehicle during one of the stops. Usman mustered up the courage to run, but her friends were too terrified to follow.
4. The Nigerian government is making little progress. Frustrated by the Nigerian military’s inaction, desperate parents have conducted searches for their daughters on their own. Parents have pooled resources to ride motorbikes deep into the Sambisa Forest, where much of Nigerian security forces were too afraid to go because they’re dominated by Boko Haram. Wielding machetes and knives, they don’t stand much of a chance against Boko Haram and are forced to turn back when night falls.
5. The fate of the girls is looking grim. Many believe the students have been taken abroad. Pogo Bitrus, a community leader in Chibok, told BBC News that gunmen had been seen crossing with young girls into Cameroon and Chad, and that some of the girls had been forced to marry their kidnappers, i.e. to become sex slaves. ”It’s a medieval kind of slavery,” he said. “That’s why I’m crying now as community leader to alert the world to what’s happening so that some pressure would be brought to bare on government to act and ensure the release of these girls.”
You can follow #BringBackOurGirls and #BringBackOurDaughters on Twitter for updated news on this tragic ongoing story.
[Image via maps.google.com]