Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Nigeria: The Future for Kidnapped Schoolgirls

By Frances YangPublished November 9, 2014

When news of the 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria broke last year, public outcry mobilized to advocate for their release. More than six months later, the girls are still held captive with a dismal forecast for further negotiations. However, the future of these kidnapped girls may lie in a focus on the larger issues of Boko Haram's 12-year violent campaign.
By Frances Yang, 11/09/14

Last April, news broke out that the Islamist terror group Boko Haram had kidnapped 276 Nigerian schoolgirls from their dorms. Protest erupted in local communities to push the Nigerian government to negotiate the girls' return while the world responded on social media, trending #BringBackOurGirls all over the Internet. In spite of the outpour of online support that peaked in April, the problem still persists and only 65 of these girls managed to escape on their own. In fact, the situation for young girls in Nigeria has worsened. Not only has Boko Haram refused to release the young girls it kidnapped, but it has also kidnapped more. 

On October 17th, the Nigerian government announced that Boko Haram had agreed to a ceasefire and the release of the girls kidnapped earlier this year. After months of deliberation and standoff, it seemed that a negotiation had finally been met. This development gave rare hope to the families of the victims, but this short-lived hope was quelled the next day when US officials reported that Boko Haram responded by kidnapping another 60 women outside the city of Maidguri. 

Fear for the kidnapped girls grows as people wonder about their fates at the hands of Boko Haram. The organization has used abductions in the past to instill fear in the rest of the population as well as to recruit laborers and forcibly convert individuals to Islam. Those in captivity are feared to be subject to all kinds of abuses, including being sold into slavery and being coerced into acting as suicide bombers; the minority who have managed to escape have reported heavy trauma. Rumors have also surfaced that Boko Haram had been planning to kidnap more girls from the start, so they could return the newly kidnapped women in place of those taken six months ago. 

People's worst fears may have been realized this past Saturday when Boko Haram leadership announced that 200 of the original kidnapping victims have long been married off—they assert that there was "no going back" and that the girls could not be saved. Equally unsettling is their claim that there was never any ceasefire truce between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government in October. This development only brings the legitimacy and efficacy of the Nigerian government into further scrutiny.  The future for these young women was precarious, but now it is even more so.

Boko Haram began its violent campaigns in 2002 in hopes depose the current Nigerian government to create an Islamic State. The US government deemed Boko Haram a terror organization while Human Rights Watch has written about the organization's crimes against humanity, reporting on its systematic murdering in Nigeria. Boko Haram has been responsible for an estimated 5000 civilian deaths in the northeastern part of the country. Its hold on the region is sinking deeper, with implications for Nigeria's economic development, stability, and more obviously the wellbeing of the people.

If the Chibok kidnappings have shown the world anything, it is that Boko Haram is a radical organization committed to violence and prone to more human rights violations. It's clear now that Boko Haram has no intention of releasing the girls' it has kidnapped. The Nigerian government desperately needs to continue negotiations for the freedom of these young women, and it should further plan how to prevent situations in the future like that of October 19th. The release of the kidnapped girls is a rightful priority, but the countless other human rights violations committed by this organization should come into the spotlight as well. The release of the kidnapped girls is a complex effort that will take more than trending twitter tags and video messages from the First Lady. Third-party mediation by Chad is a step in the right direction, and future efforts should be continued with persistence and broadened to tackle Boko Haram's violent campaign.