Bringing back the Nigerian girls

In one of the most widely publicized cases of terrorism in recent times, over 200 girls in Nigeria were kidnapped by a fundamentalist militant group named Boko Haram this year. The kidnaping occurred on the night of 14th of April, when a group of armed insurgents broke into the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, shooting at the guards and killing one soldier in the process. An estimated 276 girls, who had been recalled to school to sit for a physics exam, were loaded into trucks and driven into Boko Haram’s hideout in the forest. According to the Nigerian authorities 53 had managed to escape their abductors.

The leader of the terrorist group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping in the beginning of May, and expressed his opposition to Western style education and educating girls. According to his statement, girls as young as nine are suitable for marriage, thus the kidnapped girls would be forced into Islam and slavery, and married off to Boko Haram members at a bride price of 2,000 Nigerian Nairas each (approx. $12). This terrorist cell is infamous for its violent opposition to the Westernization of Nigeria, and has been actively targeting schools since 2010 to further their agenda. Hundreds of students have died as a result of their attacks, whilst 10,000 more have been unable to attend school.

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The government of Nigeria is reportedly utilizing the military, law enforcement and local authorities to determine the whereabouts of the girls. Meanwhile, citizens mobilized to criticize government action, claiming that it was slow and ineffective. President Goodluck Jonathan publicly assured the country that he was fully committed to recovering the victims, but that his efforts were hindered by a lack of cooperation on the part of the parents. Families of victims, in turn, have been reluctant to be active publicly in fear that their daughters would be singled out for punishment in retaliation. Social media has served as an important means of gaining this issue global attention, with the hashtag BringBackOurGirls trending on Twitter, gaining over four million tweets, and appearing on Facebook. A number of prominent personalities have joined the campaign, such as Michelle Obama, Sylvester Stallone, Anne Hathaway and Angelina Jolie.

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The media attention that this issue has garnered has sparked a heated debate on the phenomenon of hashtag activism, and whether it has any measurable, meaningful impact on social issues. Other critics argue that such widespread publicity only gains groups like Boko Haram notoriety, which is what they crave, thus incentivizing them to continue using violence. There were certain misconceptions behind this activism, such as when Chris Brown, Kim Kardashian and the US embassy in Madrid tweeted a picture of a girl from Guinea Bissau with tears that were photoshopped on as part of the campaign. Despite the vociferous opposition the Bring Back Our Girls campaign has generated, it would be fair to say that it has done much good in terms of bringing this issue to the spotlight and compelling foreign governments to pledge their support to Nigeria. The US deployed 80 troops to assist in the Nigerian government’s recovery efforts, whilst the United Kingdom, Canada, France, China and Israel have offered technical support and manpower. Meanwhile the global Muslim community has stated that the activities of Boko Haram are condemned by Islam, and have offered their support and prayers to the victims, families and Nigeria. In a day and age when violence in Africa is normalized and rarely receives much prominence or international support beyond closed diplomatic circles, it is truly heartening to see millions mobilize on an issue that exists so far away from us and is yet so close to our hearts.

-Themal Ellawala





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