News & Updates
April 14, 2016
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Desmond Tutu
In April of 2014, I was working for His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the Deputy Director of his U.S. Foundation. We had programs for peace all over the world. One that held a special place in my heart was a school that we sponsored in Jos, Nigeria. This school’s focus was to incorporate secular ethics into the already rigid curriculum that was outlined by the Nigerian government.
Because of my connection with this school, the faculty, and the students, I was particularly shocked and saddened when, on April 14th of 2014, Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 girls from the nearby town of Chibok. This sadness was compounded when a few weeks later, assailants from the same group set off a bomb in the market place in Jos, killing more than 30 including one of our students from the school.
Who of us doesn’t remember the outpouring of support that accompanied the hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls? The campaign was taken up from such a variety of luminaries – from Michelle Obama to Kim Kardashian – and it shone a global light on the brutal yet largely ignored conflict that has been raging in Nigeria for more than seven years. Archbishop Desmond Tutu stood with ONE leaders to call for an action to free these girls.
So what happened to the girls?
According to Mr. Ufuoma Akpojivi, a media researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, 219 of those 276 girls are still missing. Most have not been seen since a video that Boko Haram released in May 2014. Then the Los Angeles Times reported today that the November following the kidnappings in Chibok and bombings in Jos, more than 400 people, mostly children, vanished after a Boko Haram invasion of Damasak. Despite the world’s attention on Nigeria, a Human Rights Watch report has concluded that the Nigerian security forces never really made an effort to locate the missing girls and boys from Damasak.
219 girls missing from Chibok, more than 400 people missing from Damasak – and this is just a small fraction of the thousands of women, girls and boys that have been abducted. Amnesty International reports that more than 2000 women were abducted just in 2015 and 2016. UNICEF reports that in 2015,In 2015, the estimated number of Boko Haram bomb attacks in North-East Nigeria and neighboring countries increased sharply, as did the proportion of attacks involving children. Three quarters of these so-called suicide-bombing attacks involve young girls. These children are victims, not perpetrators. Usually the bombs are strapped to their bodies and detonated remotely, without the children even knowing what they are.
In the two years since the Chibok girls were abducted, Nigeria held free elections as well as demonstrated an impressive vigilance in defending against the Ebola virus. Nigeria can handle this, but they need our help. We need to continue telling the story of these girls, but we cannot stop there. The international community needs to renew their full support to all local, regional and national governments to dedicate their resources and and expertise, to do whatever necessary, to #BringBackOurGirls.