22 July 2014
Today marks 100 days since 276 girls were seized from their boarding school in Chibok in Borno state in the north-east of Nigeria.
The girls were aged between 16 and 18 and were taking exams at the school which was one of the few still open in the area. Around 50 girls managed to escape, the rest were taken by Boko Haram militants into the remote Sambisa forest.
In May a video of some of the girls was released by Boko Haram, an extremist group whose aim is to set up an Islamic state in Nigeria and whose name means “western education is a sin”. They offered to hand them over in exchange for the release of militant prisoners. Nothing has been heard of them since.
This month, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot in the head by the Taliban for championing the right of girls to education, visited Nigeria to meet with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and the families of the kidnapped girls and pledge her support for their release. But it is now 100 days since the abduction and the families fear the world’s attention has moved on and they will never see their daughters again.
Interviews with abducted schoolgirls’ families
Last week ActionAid spoke to members of the Chibok community and some of the families of the kidnapped girls, who are still going through agony — not knowing what happened to their daughters and sisters.
Shaku, 16, brother of one of the abducted girls, told ActionAid: “I was the one who took my sister Saratu and our cousin Elizabeth to school. It was the week before they were abducted and I borrowed my father’s motorbike to take them.
“I loved my sister very much. She is my older sister and sometimes she would call me and say: “Let us go and read” and we would read together and she would help teach me things that I didn’t know. When I remember these things, I can’t sleep and I start to cry.”
Rhoda, 20, sister of another one of the girls, added: “The day I heard about the kidnappings it was in the afternoon. I heard about the abductions and was thinking this was my sister’s school even before it was confirmed. I couldn’t eat that day, my heart was beating so fast. To this day my body doesn’t feel good, I’ve been feeling ill all the time since then.
“My sister liked reading, she wanted to be a lawyer. Among all of us, she was the one who liked going to school most. She was very intelligent. She is younger than me, but she was a better student than I am.”
It’s heartbreaking to hear their words, — and you can see how upset they are in the interview at the top of this page — but it is not just the immediate families that are affected. The kidnapping as well as other attacks by Boko Haram means that many parents living in the wider area do not want to let their daughters go to school for fear of them being abducted or killed. This is a terrible consequence of the violence in a country which is already home to over 10 million of the 57 million out of schoolchildren in the world — more than any other country.
Working to get girls into school in Nigeria
ActionAid has worked for many years to promote education, particularly for girls, in Nigeria. We work with parents, pupils, teachers, community leaders and religious leaders to make the case for girls’ education and challenge entrenched attitudes which prevent families sending their daughters to school.
We are pressing local authorities to recruit more female teachers, since Muslim parents are more likely to send girls to school where their teacher is a woman. We have seen how something as simple as the construction of sanitation facilities, particularly separate lavatories for girls, has encouraged many pupils to stay in school.
We also promote girls’ clubs to create safe spaces for secondary school girls to meet and interact amongst themselves, while building their confidence and learning about life changing topics and issues.
Weekly activities include skills training sessions from local business women such as sewing, knitting and doughnut-making. In some schools girls have put their new skills into practice by providing school lunches, and supporting one another’s examination fees.