Boko Horam’s Hostages

“Just because I took some little girls who were in western education, everybody is making noise,” he says. He laughs. “Let me tell you: I took the girls…I repeat, I took the girls, and I will sell them off. There is a market for selling girls,” he says. [Watch a video of his statement here ].

Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram leader, from a video he put out claiming ownership of having kidnapped the girls

Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram leader, from a video he put out claiming ownership of having kidnapped the girls

This is Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Boko Haram, the militant group that has been terrorizing Nigeria for over a decade now. The group, whose name roughly translates to “Western education is sin,” attacks Christians as well as Muslims who do not practice the Islam that they believe in. It  attacks schools, mosques, and churches. It has bombed bus stops and police stations, killing an estimated 1500 people just this year.


But last month, Boko Haram took its terrorizing acts to a new level–a level of human trafficking. One night, they raided the Government Girls Secondary School, an all-girls school in Chibok, Nigeria. Allegedly, people knew that it was going to happen (they stopped and asked for directions), but with such a corrupt government and limited communication, no one was able to assemble troops or some sort of defense for the girls (Amnesty International actually declares that the military knew Boko Haram’s plans and failed to take action).  Petrified of the burning buildings, the students escaped with the Boko Haram soldiers, convinced that they were coming to their rescue. When they were loaded into trucks and buses, that was not the case. 276 girls were abducted. 276 young women, working to get an education. 276 women who had broken the gender barriers, the cultural barriers, the religious barriers, and achieved something that so few women in their situation are able to do–get educated. These are the girls destined to be doctors and lawyers and teachers. They are the ones working to break the incessant cycles of poverty and illiteracy. Yet Boko Haram believes that, in that very act, they are engaging in a filthy act and threatening Islam.


Families nervously await the return of their girls

But what these girls are really doing, are threatening extremism. Boko Haram recognizes something that not enough people do. They recognize the power of education. They see it as the true weapon that it is. They know that if young women are taught about the world, are given the tools to make their own decisions and direct their own lives, the suppressive acts of fundamentalist extremism will be undermined. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff writes, “The best tool to fight extremism is education, especially of girls — and that means ensuring that it is safe to study. The greatest threat to militancy in the long run comes not from drones but from girls with schoolbooks.” It is true. Boko Haram, in that sense, is very right. They rightfully fear women’s education.

boko haram-kidnapping Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Boko Haram

Yet they have taken this fear to horrific levels. They have already been treating these girls as slaves, forcing them to do labor for them, perform sexual acts, even auctioning them off to their soldiers for marriage at $12 a girl. It is undeniable that Boko Haram is brutally subjecting these young girls to all forms of human trafficking. And as Shekau said in the quote above, he is planning to not only work these girls for his own benefit, he is planning on selling them on the rampant black market of modern day slavery. Just think: if he is selling them, that intrinsically means that there are people on the other end, willing to (even wanting to) buy them.

And of course it does not stop there. As aid groups from around the world have stepped in to search for and rescue the girls, Boko Haram has fought back. Yesterday, a two-pronged bombing targeted aid workers. 118 died simply because they were trying to save girls who have been kidnapped and some sold into slavery!

A mother cries out for her still missing daughter

A mother cries out for her still missing daughter

This is fundamentally a human rights abuse. Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, cousins and neighbors are grieving the seeming loss of their loved ones. Nigerians have been protesting in the streets, calling for their government to tell them the truth, to acknowledge the sheer significance of the kidnapping and to take a stronger stand against Boko Haram. But most importantly, they are calling for the freedom of the girls. Their cries and hashtags of #BringBackOurGirls have echoed around the world, uniting people of all nations in an attempt (even if it is just with the tap of a phone) to ring the bell of justice and free these enslaved girls.

i only fear that this will become a media campaign, like KONY 2012, and like the former, will die out (whether the girls get rescued or not). People are so fixated on these 200+ girls that they are not recognizing the fact that girls are kidnapped and enslaved every day. That every morning that we roll out of bed and grab that cup of coffee, there are small children enslaved in the tomato fields of Florida and the brick kilns of Pakistan, that there are young women serving 20 clients a night in brothels in Fremont and India, that there are prisoners put on dead row in China so that their organs can be trafficked. Yes, we need to stand up for these girls. We need to raise our voices in unison and cry out for their freedom. But we cannot forget the other 27 million human beings around the world who have been dehumanized to the place of slavery.