Over the last week or so, multiple stories in the news have been asking why the media is ignoring the kidnapping of more than 200 girls (some reports say as many as 276) by Boko Haram, an extremist anti-Western group in Nigeria. Yet there have been literally hundreds of Facebook posts, thousands of tweets, and dozens of stories in the media about what is going on. It took a week or two — longer than it should have, yes, considering the horror of what has been perpetrated — but in the end, this case has gotten more attention than any single case of girls abducted in armed conflict in recent memory, possibly ever. People are paying attention.
As that becomes evident, all the outcry over “why aren’t we paying attention” starts to look like it’s part of a deeper public distress: Why have we not paid attention in the past when thousands of girls — and boys — have been abducted in armed conflict? Why aren’t we paying attention, right now, to the girls caught in human trafficking webs or sold into early marriages or held in captivity as “wives” by armed groups? Why are we only now outraged? And will this outrage sustain itself as situations like this one unendingly arise? Will any amount of anger lead to any concrete solution?
What happened to these girls isn’t new, sadly. Instances of the trafficking of children in places of conflict are myriad and worldwide. But as I delved into what I thought would be a story about the larger issue of the abduction and selling of girls, I realized that first I had to clarify what this story is actually about.
On April 14, an extremist group whose name roughly translates as “Western education is forbidden” abducted the Nigerian girls from a high school in the northeastern town of Chibok. The convoy disappeared quickly into the forest, and ever since rumors have trickled out of the country about their fate. There are reports that the girls have been sold into marriage or sexual slavery for “as little as” $12 (as if their being sold for a higher price would somehow improve the situation).
Boko Haram is trying to wrest control of northern Nigeria back from what it sees as “false Muslims.” The International Crisis Group estimates that the al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group has killed more than 4,000 people in Nigeria since it began its insurgency four years ago; it perpetrated seven attacks on schools in 2013, according to Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch says the militants have previously utilized children as weapons.
The kidnapping of so many schoolgirls at once, however, has upped the ante. Boko Haram has chosen a group — girls — that is historically vulnerable, yet whose members carry precious undertones about the purity of most societies. And with that designation as the bearers of purity, girls become a group that is little more than a symbol. In reality, these girls are human beings who are marginalized, exploited, and ignored globally. Girls are the low-hanging fruit of the biblically proportioned anger at Eve.