NIGERIA: Bring back the abducted school girls of Chibok

If we forget about these girls it means we are forgetting our own sisters, our own people."- Malala Yousafzai[1]

Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) is enraged by the abduction of more than 200 girls in Chibok, Borno State of Northeastern Nigeria, whose fate remains unclear. We grieve with the families of the girls and support their call to bring them safely back to their homes where they belong. We urge the Nigerian government to do their utmost power in bringing the girls back to their families and subsequently assuring they receive medical and psychological support, and the international community to assist them.  We are in solidarity with the people and civil society groups in Nigeria who are opposing and resisting the rise of armed political Islamist forces who misuse and abuse the name of Islam to justify their brutal terrorist ploy. On Monday 14th April 2014, heavily armed men associated with the armed political Islamist group, Boko Haram, raided the government secondary schools for girls and kidnapped the girls who are mostly between 16 and 18 of age. The incident took place the night before their final exam. Those who were able to escape recounted how they were awakened by the sound of gunmen bashing in windows and setting fire to their classrooms. Within hours, 234 of them were herded into trucks headed for the jungle. As many as 43 managed to escape. Some swung down from trucks in the slow-moving convoy; others ran off when they reached the forest.

There have been eyewitness reports of mass forced “marriages”  to Boko Haram militants after the incident in the Sambisa forest where the girls were reportedly held hostage. There are unconfirmed reports too of girls brought across the border to neighboring countries, Chad and Cameroun, to be sold.

The trend of conflicting information about the exact number of girls who are still missing and the futility of the government’s rescue operations are appalling. Desperate parents launched their own rescue operations while rescue attempts by the Nigerian security forces had, so far, been thwarted apparently because of tips from government informants who have links with Boko Haram and the difficult terrain of the areas controlled by Boko Harram.  

Nigeria's armed forces face an uphill battle against the insurgents, who operate in small, mobile units and whose forces are drawn from local communities that are almost inaccessible.  

Boko Haram (which literally means "books [Western education] forbidden") is the biggest security threat in Northern Nigeria nowadays. Using terrorist tactics, part of their agenda is to wipe out secular society in the region that is predominantly Muslim thus they have been burning down schools, killing pupils (e.g. 59 boys, mostly burnt to death in February 2014) and abducting girl students [2]  but the Chibok incident is their largest operation so far. 

Education in Nigeria is as much a symbol of the hope for a prosperous future as it is a practical means to achieve it, thus schools become easy targets. The north-east of Nigeria already lags behind the rest of the country in terms of education enrolment, retention and completion, particularly of girls. Many parents are reluctant to send their daughters to school as they believe that girls should be married at a young age and therefore girls are withdrawn from school around puberty.[3] On the other hand, most of Boko Haram’s members are disenfranchised young boys and men whose access to education is through the ‘alamajiri” system (discipleship of religious leaders). Unlike Nigeria's government schools, which in several states require payment for tuition, almajiri discipleship is free (as the boys frequently beg for charity), so even the poorest boys can participate.

Our calls for action.

1.       The Nigerian government has the sole responsibility to provide protection to its citizens most especially the young and vulnerable school children. We therefore urge the authorities to take the following immediate steps:


·         To do everything in its power to find and rescue the girls, and subsequently provide medical and psychological care and support.

·         To put in place special protection mechanisms to safeguard the lives and education of all children in Nigeria, particularly in the vulnerable north-east region.


WLUML considers the mass murder, abduction of school children and sexual violence against girls including rape and sexual slavery  are   heinous crimes under international law.  We call upon the Nigerian government and the international community particularly the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to immediately and thoroughly investigate the incident and to bring the perpetrators to justice.


[1] A quote by girls’ education campaigner, Malala Yousafzai, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today program.

[2] On February 25, 2014,  59 were killed at the Federal Government College of Buni Yadi in Yobe State, Nigeria. All of the students killed were male. The twenty-four buildings of the school were also burned down as a result of the attack.