200 Nigerian Girls Are Missing and Not Enough People Are Talking About It

by Amy Carlberg

“We pinned our hopes on the government, but all that hope is turning to frustration. The town is under a veil of sorrow,” laments Danuma Mpur, chair of the PTA in Chibok, Northeast Borno, where on April 14 over 200 girls were abducted at gunpoint. The kidnappers are believed to be Islamist militant group Boko Haram. They target female students because they hold jihadist beliefs that women should not be educated. The girls were all aged between 16 and 18, and their parents and guardians are growing increasingly distressed with each day the girls are still missing. The local government has so far been uncooperative in assisting with the search.

It’s a tragic situation, and one which is unimaginable if you were to replace the word “Girls” with “Boys,” and “Nigerian” with “American.” The fact that this case remains unsolved after over two weeks is astounding. Easier to imagine are our own parents if one of us were kidnapped, combing the forest for days, unable to eat or rest until we were found. This is exactly the life that hundreds of parents in Borno face right now. A father named Hamma Balumai, whose daughter Hauwa was abducted, used his own life savings to embark on a two-day search mission in the woods with other parents. Sadly, they were unsuccessful, warned that they must turn around or they would endanger themselves as well.

No lights. No helmets. No utility belts, or GPS, or official first aid kit, or thermal blankets, tents, or rations. What is it like to realize that your very own flesh and blood is missing and your government is refusing to help look for her?

A word we hear a lot in news stories like this is “jihad.” This translates literally to “struggle” from the Arabic. It’s an accurate term, to say the least. Religious fundamentalists take commandments of their faith more literally–of course, not every Muslim agrees on the specific duties of jihad. It can mean fighting against the oppression of Islam, but it can also be twisted in order to uphold conservative and harmful values. The Boko Haram group in particular believes women should be confined to the home and take care of their husbands and families, which is why they targeted a girls’ boarding school. Their abduction attempts over the past year have focused on schools and female students in particular. The Boko Haram fighters often force the girls to convert, and marry them off. To them, obstructing women’s right to education is jihad.

“There is much sympathy for parents, but not a huge degree of shock,” says Mathieu Guidere, professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at the University of Toulouse. This is devastating. The buzzwords of American politics right now are “hands-off,” “welfare queen,” “dependency.” Would our tune change if what we heard more often were things like #BringBackOurGirls and #WhereAreOurDaughters? The government in Borno won’t give any back-up to the parents searching for their children all by themselves. Governor Kayode Fayemi of the Ekiti state in the south says, “they are working on it.” 

Around the world, we can all identify with the phrase “they are working on it.” We all know that when they say “they are working on it,” what we hear is “not hard enough.” It’s a disaster that these young girls have not yet been found, but hopefully awareness will spread, help will come from the government and these parents will find relief once their daughters return home safely. Sometimes a hands-on government is exactly what is needed.

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