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“Girls are our future. Extremists know this and want to deprive the world of the hope adolescent girls embody. This is not only about Nigeria – it is about protecting the rights of every girl, everywhere to reach her fullest potential without the threat of violence.”
It’s been months since heavily armed attackers stormed the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria and abducted nearly 300 girls during the night of 14-15 April. The majority of the schoolgirls have not been seen or heard from since and are feared to have been sold into “marriages” and sexual slavery in Nigeria, and potentially, in neighboring Cameroon and Chad. The militant group, Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates to “Western education is a sin,” reportedly claimed responsibility, stating, “Western education should end. Girls, you should go and get married…I will sell them in the marketplace.” In a further alarming development, early in the week of 4 May, suspected Boko Haram gunmen abducted at least eight more girls – some possibly as young as eight years old – from a village in Borno State, Nigeria. On 6 May, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that such human rights violations – selling the abducted girls as slaves – could constitute “crimes against humanity.” So far, however, efforts to rescue the girls have fallen desperately short.
Women and men across Nigeria and around the world campaigned in the streets and on social media to protest the government’s failure to take action, sparking a global campaign to “Bring Back Our Girls.” Egregiously, it took weeks for Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to publicly pledge to find the girls, after forming a “fact-finding committee” on 2 May, and reportedly, Nigerian First Lady, Patience Jonathan, ordered the arrest of protest leaders campaigning in support of the girls and their families on 5 May (on 6 May the President accepted international support to assist in the search).
Gender-based violence in Nigeria is on the rise and similar abductions have occurred in the past. Our Nigerian partner Women's Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) is very concerned that they will continue to occur until Nigeria prioritizes and acts to protect the safety and rights of girls, particularly those in conflict regions. The failure to do so sends the message that girls and women can be bought and sold and used as political currency with impunity.
Nigeria has ratified international and regional human rights instruments that affirm the State’s responsibility to protect women and girls from sexual violence, including the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa(Maputo Protocol), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These instruments specifically call on Nigeria to protect girls from trafficking and harmful cultural practices, including child marriage, and to ensure that girls’ right to education is upheld.
Until and unless the Nigerian government and other actors in the conflict in Nigeria place greater value on the worth of girls and women as human beings and take comprehensive measures to protect them from all forms of violence, they will face an ongoing and heightened risk of such abuses.
8 OCTOBER 2014 UPDATE: In July, the Nigerian Ministry of the Interior responded to our letter calling for increased efforts to rescue the abducted Chibok school girls and to eradicate terrorism (read letter here). However, despite declarations of behind the scenes efforts, international collaboration, and increased security measures, six months have passed and not one girl has been rescued. To date, 219 girls are still missing, and the 57 girls who escaped, did so on their own. In fact, Boko Haram has abducted additional girls, women and boys since April.
We have taken the issue up using various United Nations and African Commission human rights procedures and continue to keep the discussion going on our networks. On 13 October – following the 11 October international recognition of the Day of the Girl Child -- Equality Now, the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights Coalition (SOAWR) and FEMNET, will hold a solidarity vigil to mark six months since the girls’ abduction. The vigil will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, bringing together civil society, expert guest speakers and artists. In addition, 11-18 October will be Global Week of Action. We are not giving up on the girls and we hope you will do the same. Please renew the call to hold the governments accountable and to keep global attention on the issue. Thank you for your support.