In what sounds like a too-horrifying-to-be-true story, 234 teenage girls were kidnapped from their school in northern Nigeria by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, whose name translates to “Western education is sinful.” Although the kidnappings took place about two weeks ago, the girls are still missing, and many in Nigeria, and across the world, are crying out that not enough is being done to try and get the girls back.
About forty of the kidnapped girls managed to escape — reportedly by jumping out the back of a truck and into the forest pre-dawn last Tuesday — but that’s a small fraction of the 234 who remain missing. The Nigerian army had to quickly backtrack when their claims of rescuing all but eight of the girls were challenged by the girls’ friends and family.
These girls were targeted because they were attending school in the northeastern town of Chibok. At first it was reported that they were kidnapped while taking a physics exam, but now it appears that they were actually taken at night. The physics exam that they were supposed to take had actually been cancelled due to security concerns in Borno, the state where the girls were attending school. Boko Haram has a history of attacking schools, and in February killed 59 students at a boarding school. In fact, the group killed over 300 people in February alone, and still they were able to continue their assault of terror.
How does a group like this even have the ability to pull off a kidnapping of this size? Apparently, this part of Nigeria has been unstable and violent for some time, and Boko Haram has been committing horrific acts of terrorism and violence there since at least 2009. In that year, the group’s original leader, the preacher Mohammed Yusuf, was arrested and killed after his group attempted an armed insurrection in the region. The group initially wanted to form an Islamic state in northern Nigeria peacefully, but started turning violent in 2002. After Yusuf was killed, they started to violently retaliate at first against the state, but soon they turned to general acts of violence and terrorism.
The group is also well-positioned for growth due to its location: 72% of Northern Nigeria’s population lives in poverty, compared to a 27% poverty rate in the southern region, and the Nigerian military is spread too thin to make a strong impact. Groups like Boko Haram easily gain footholds where money, security and infrastructure is lacking — despite declaring a state of emergency in Borno and two other Northern states in 2013, over 1,500 people have been killed there so far this year.
This is making people in Nigeria furious. Nigerians are tweeting and trying to call attention, using the hashtags #bringbackourgirls and #bringbackourdaughters. Hundreds of angry women marched through the streets of the capitol, Abuja on Wednesday in what they called a “Million-Woman March.” One protester told the UPI, “For how long are we going to wait for the government to help us? We can’t bear it anymore … We just want the government to help us, we want the world to hear this and help us.” Others in Nigeria are calling for international support. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project asked for the UN to “urgently intervene” and provide “international assistance and support to the Nigerian authorities to secure the release of the children and to ensure that they get back to school.”
On one hand, it seems totally otherworldly how little attention this mass kidnapping is getting from the media here in America. Let me repeat the story. More than 200 young women were kidnapped from their school and most of them are still missing. This is a full-blown tragedy. This is horrifying. This is exactly the kind of thing that should be on the news, even for a heartless news manager who was only looking for clickbait. I mean, we have multiple 24 hour news channels and they seem to be dedicating as little time as possible to covering this kidnapping.
On the other hand, it’s hardly surprising that a story about something happening to black girls isn’t getting coverage. This is something that seems to happen on a regular basis here in America. Whether it happens at home and abroad, violence aimed at black bodies is a low priority for Mainstream America.
Although this is being widely ignored, many on social media have taken notice. It’s easy to criticize so called, “twitter” or “tumblr activists,” but there’s something to be said when they’re currently the ones making the most noise about this here in the US. Some are joining in with the Nigerian mothers and using the #bringbackourgirls hashtag, while others are creating their own. One twitter user, Kim Moore, is using the hashtag #234whitegirls to point out that if this had happened to 234 white girls, instead of 234 black Nigerian girls, the American media and public wouldn’t rest until they were home safely.
This is hard to write about because it breaks my heart and makes me furious. I can’t believe that this happened and that the entire world didn’t explode into action as soon as it did. There doesn’t seem like much I can do from my home here in Idaho. There is a whitehouse.gov petition that you can sign, calling on President Obama to work with the UN and the Nigerian government to bring the girls home, but it only has about 8,000 of the needed 100,000 signatures. Current reports are saying that it looks like the girls are being trafficked and sold into marriages in nearby countries. Right now, it looks like the Nigerian military isn’t doing enough to bring the girls safely home. Hopefully the protests and calls to action will be enough to make either them, or someone else, step up.