Africa

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Parents plead for kidnapped schoolgirls sold as '€10 brides'

Catrina Stewart

Published 01/05/2014|02:30

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Four female students of the government secondary school Chibok, who were abducted by gunmen and reunited with their families, walk in Chibok, Nigeria. (AP Photo/ Haruna Umar)
Four female students of the government secondary school Chibok, who were abducted by gunmen and reunited with their families, walk in Chibok, Nigeria. (AP Photo/ Haruna Umar)

HUNDREDS of Nigerians braved heavy rain yesterday to march on parliament to demand intensified efforts by the government to rescue more than 200 missing schoolgirls abducted by Islamist insurgents a fortnight ago.

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Activists had called for a "million-woman" march in the capital, Abuja, but turnout fell far short of that, despite massive support on social-networking sites and in the media.

The mass kidnappings, carried out by fighters from the al-Qa'ida-inspired Boko Haram group, have stunned Nigerians largely inured to the violence that has wracked the country's north-east for the past five years.

Desperate parents forayed into the forests where the girls are thought to have been taken, only to turn back after locals warned them that the insurgents were heavily armed.

But the government has taken little visible action to allay growing criticism it is doing nothing to bring the girls home. It has even refused to provide assistance when approached by the girls' parents for help.

The father of one of the missing girls said families were pinning their hopes on ordinary Nigerians, who have transcended religious and ethnic divides to draw attention to the plight of the victims. It is believed some girls have already been sold as "brides" to Islamist insurgents or into sex slavery.

"We are poor, with no influence whatsoever, which we believe is the reason the government does not care about our girls," the father told the Agence France Presse.

"We believe that if Nigerians, the high and the low, raise their voices from different quarters, it will make the government sit up and do the right thing to free our girls."

On the night of April 14, Boko Haram fighters overpowered guards at the girls' boarding school in Chibok, in north-eastern Borno state. Masquerading as soldiers, militants lured the pupils, aged mainly between 16 and 18, into trucks. According to escapees' accounts, when the armed men shouted "Allahu Akbar", it dawned on the captives that they were insurgents.

Over the following days, between 40 and 50 girls escaped, either by jumping from trucks or by running off when sent to wash dishes. The precise number of missing girls has varied widely. Officials said 129 were kidnapped and initially claimed that the military had freed all but eight. That statement was later retracted. The school principal says 220 girls remain missing.

Boko Haram, which means "Western education is forbidden", has conducted a grisly campaign of terror in its campaign to create an Islamic state in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north. The group has targeted schools, in particular. Last July, it burned 29 students alive at a school in northern Nigeria, and in February it massacred 59 boys at a boarding school.

The military, underfunded and poorly equipped, has been lambasted for its failure to rein in Boko Haram and, particularly, for appearing to do little in the search for the abducted girls, even though their location has at times been identified.

The girls' parents fear that, if the government does not act soon, their daughters could become untraceable.

Locals say they have tracked the movements of the girls, and believe that most of them were taken across the border into Chad or Cameroon, where some have been sold as wives to Islamist fighters for 2,000 naira (€10).

SLAVERY

"Some of them have been married off to insurgents. A medieval kind of slavery. You go and capture women and sell them off," Pogu Bitrus, a community elder in Chibok, told the BBC's Hausa service.

The case is eerily reminiscent of a similar abduction in northern Uganda in 1996, when 140 girls were snatched from their dormitories by the Lord's Resistance Army, which is fighting for a state based on the biblical Ten Commandments.

The release of 109 was later secured.

(© Independent News Service )

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