With the kidnapping of eight more girls from the northeast Nigerian village of Warabe, the abduction crisis in Nigeria has taken a new turn for the worse. Not only has Boko Haram now told the world that the first 270 girls kidnapped are to be sold as sex slaves, but by escalating its attacks by snatching even younger girls – this time the children are aged 12-15 – the group is engendering even greater international outrage.
If Boko Haram terrorists think they can capture schoolgirls with impunity, then their reign of terror will intensify. So it is reassuring that this week British and American diplomatic leaders are discussing how they can assist the Nigerian authorities in identifying and then locating the girls being held in forest hideaways.
By doing so, they are sending a message to Boko Haram that friends of Nigeria will not stand by if the terrorist campaign continues. This week, in a visit to Abuja, I will talk to the Nigerian authorities about how friendly governments can coordinate support and help them deal with the terrorist menace.
Over the last five years, Boko Haram has wreaked havoc, targeting schools in a murderous campaign that has seen more than 4,000 deaths. Two months ago, at a school for boys in the north, 50 young children were massacred. Last year, another group of girls who had been abducted were finally rescued after weeks at the mercy of Boko Haram militants. Some of the girls were pregnant after being used as sex slaves.
Now, Boko Haram leaders have announced that they plan to sell the 270 girls from Borno state and disperse them throughout Africa, making it impossible for parents to locate them. Boko Haram’s attitude to women is that they should be servants who remain uneducated. The name Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden,” and the group has threatened a new wave of kidnapping in the months to come.
Tackling this terrorist threat demands that we help locate the girls who are now in captivity and show Boko Haram that its actions will be met with reprisals. Surveillance and other equipment has to be made available to the Nigerian authorities to root the terrorists out — but we must also make sure that schools are safe for children to attend.
A new “safe schools” initiative is desperately needed in Nigeria, with measures that include guards to reassure worried parents that schools are secure.
Our call for satellite and air-surveillance support by America and Britain is based on the urgency of the situation; these girls may be dispersed soon. There is an obvious need to back up the Nigerian effort with high technology support.
United Nations warnings that abductions are war crimes have to be complemented by a new effort to signal that schools will be treated by the international community as safe havens.
“Bring back our girls” is the banner under which worried parents are now marching, demanding action to free their daughters. In future we must make Nigerian schools safe so that these atrocities cease to be a regular occurrence.
Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is the UN’s special envoy for global education.
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