Trigger Warning: This post contains mention of rape, abuse, and violence against women and girls.
In April 2014, Boko Haram, a violent militant Islamic terrorist group, abducted 276 school girls from Chibok in northern Nigeria. The girls were hidden in the Sambisa forest and were raped, abused, sold off as brides, impregnated, and forced to convert from Christianity.
Following the abduction, many people around the world took to social media to demand justice using the hashtag #BrickBackOurGirls, which went viral. The abduction of the girls became a global issue, gaining support from celebrities and public figures and putting pressure on the Nigerian government to bring back the girls.
Over the last four years, the protests, campaigning, and negotiation by the Nigerian government has led to the release of more than 100 of the Chibok girls, although as many as 100 girls are still missing, and a dozen are thought to be dead.
Despite the unimaginable abuse the girls were subjected to, many of the returned students have turned into strong young women and begun attending university. But their release is bittersweet. One of the survivors, Ntakai said that although she is happy to be alive, “I’m thinking about my sisters who are still [in Boko Haram’s clutches].”
“We need to know if they are alive or dead,” said one distressed parent. “If they are alive, let them come back to us. If they are dead, let us know so we can at least pray for them and then overcome this grief.”
“Social media might be rife with #outrage, but the Chibok girls and the rest of Nigeria needs more than tweets and online petitions.”
The war that Nigeria has with Boko Haram is currently in its ninth year, and there have been thousands kidnapped and killed over the years all across northern Nigeria. The Chibok students are simply one set of many victims of the terrors of Boko Haram – they just happen to be the ones that have made it into international press.
Over the years, young boys have been burnt alive in their schools by Boko Haram, and countless other atrocities have occurred while the Western media turned a blind eye. The abduction of the Chibok girls, while appalling and heart-breaking, is just one of the many abhorrent ways Boko Haram has violently opposed the education of young people, particularly of young girls.
The abduction of the Chibok girls remains a typical example of how, around the world there are still young people unable to gain access to education without putting their lives in danger. While international agencies like the UN continue to make education a priority, northern Nigeria still hasn’t received diplomatic or military support from the international community. Social media might be rife with #outrage, but the Chibok girls and the rest of Nigeria needs more than tweets and online petitions – they need tangible action from the rest of the world.
It’s easy for those of us in the West to look at the recent return of many of the girls, celebrate, and move on. But for the families of the girls that remain missing, and the survivors of Boko Haram’s atrocities, they cannot forget. Until the international community steps up, young people pursuing education in Nigeria remain at risk.