Sunday, May 4, 2014

Why Do Some Girls Matter More Than Others?

The young girls had finished their school work and settled in for the evening. It had been a long weekend of studying for everyone. On Monday, the entire school had an important exam on the workings of government. It was a tough test, so all the female students - over 200 of them - had spent the past two days focusing on doing their best. Like young people all over the world, they had many things on their minds; family, friends, and perhaps the future with all its promises. But that Sunday night as they went to bed, it was the test that concerned them most.

Sometime during the night all that changed.

The girls awoke suddenly to the sharp sounds of windows being broken, men shouting, and then . . . fire. Just as their confusion turned to panic the masked men burst into their dormitory, forced them from their beds and quickly herded them into trucks. The trucks drove unopposed into the nearby forest holding 243 girls between 16 and 18 years old.

We would know nothing of the girl's fate after that if some hadn't managed to escape. As many as 43 of them jumped from trucks in the slow-moving convoy. Others ran into the thick jungle after days of travel and abuse.

One of the girls recently reported that some of the students are forced to have sex with their captors up to 15 times in a day. Others were given to leaders of the abductors because they were virgins. Families of the schoolgirls are certain their daughters are now being used as sex slaves by an extreme sect that has killed 1,500 people since the start of this year alone.

Since April 14th Nigerian militants, known as Boko Haram, have been holding the girls hostage with total impunity beginning in the Sambisa Forest where the group operates a heavily armed camp of bunkers, tunnels, ramshackle buildings and tents. Most of the girls haven't been heard from since that night before their final exam at the Government Girls Secondary School in the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok.

Mma Odi, Executive Director of the Nigerian Charity Baobab Women’s Human Rights, stated, “It is a very bad situation for those girls. The men went to the school for no other reason than to make them their sex objects. The men will have reduced them to sex slaves, raping them over and over again. And any girl who tries to resist will be shot by them. They have no conscience. The conditions will be terrible and it seems like the government has just abandoned them because they are girls and they are poor. If they were the sons of the rich, the government would act."

"If they were sons of the rich."

There’s nothing the media loves more than a good hunt. So for the past few months, news coverage has been dominated by the hunt for the missing Malaysian Flight 370, the hunt for survivors on the South Korean ferry accident, even the hunt for 2016 presidential candidates. But when Boko Haram terrorists kidnapped more than 243 Nigerian girls, the media - and the world - barely took notice. Why? Because they are not sons (male) of the rich (power/influence/privilege).

Of course, it’s impossible to ignore, the racial implications. When pretty white girls are the victims of crime (Jonbenet Ramsey, Natalee Holloway, Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, Elizabeth Smart, to name a few) news outlets send helicopters and reporters to the scene. But when hundreds of poor black girls are kidnapped in a faraway country, it barely makes the news.

Because they are poor black girls, trying to get an education in a world that does not want them educated, ("Boco Haram" roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden.") they are not only expendable, they are ignored. And ignoring them exposes our own ignorance.

Ignoring them because they are poor black girls has allowed them to become slaves to terrorists. They are forced into "marriage," sexually abused, raped, beaten and in some cases, killed.

Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, who runs a shelter for girls abducted by Joseph Kony’s LRA in Uganda, says “They are being given in sex slavery. This is human trafficking. We should call evil by its name.”

The Nigerian government has made almost no publicized effort to find the girls. Mausi Segun, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Nigeria, said that people who live near the group’s suspected camps haven’t seen any security forces searching for the students and no one from the government has reached out to the families. In an attempt to turn the world away from the situation, the Nigerian government simply lied and said that most of the girls had been returned.

The world's media - especially American media - has enabled the government to do nothing by ignoring the story for weeks. The kidnapping was mentioned for the first time on American nightly news on May 1st, more than two weeks after the girls were taken.

We only started paying close attention after salacious rumors surfaced that the girls were likely sold as child brides for as little as $12. That’s too little, too late.

Yet the entire incident should come as no surprise. Boko Haram has been terrorizing Nigeria for years, capitalizing on instability fueled by economic inequality and unemployment in Africa’s largest economy. They’ve attacked villages, caused explosions at bus stations, and murdered boys at a boarding school, but this is their largest attack yet, the one that should have caught the world’s attention.

Frustrated by the government’s lack of action, some of the girls’ fathers and brothers have gone looking for them, without success.

Now, reports from Human Rights Watch and others state that each girl - if not already dead - has been sold, traded, moved, or otherwise taken to other parts of Nigeria or over the country's borders to other African nations.

If we had paid attention at the beginning of the story, when the girls were together and still in Nigeria, they might have been found. Now, they have been scattered to the winds stirred by evil men.

No doubt, Boco Haram are the villains here, and the Nigerian government is responsible for the lack of action. But we cannot deny our own complicity. We were not paying attention. We were distracted - so easily distracted. We failed those girls.

We failed them because we decided they don't matter to us.

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