Gunmen abducted six girls and two staff members from a boarding school in northern Nigeria on Oct 3.
The gunmen broke into Engavers College, a boarding school in a remote area outside the city of Kaduna, around 12:10 a.m., school official Elvis Allah-Yaro told Al Jazeera. The gunmen then made contact with parents and demanded money in exchange for their children.
“My daughter called me early Friday morning on a phone number I didn’t know,” a mother of one of the kidnapped children told AFP. "She was crying and sounded frightened.”
The location of the students and teachers has been identified but the Kaduna state police are not disclosing details to protect the victims and secure their release. Negotiations to free the children are underway, state governor Mallam Nasir El-Rufai told the press. Kaduna State Police announced that it arrested 50 suspects involved in various criminal activities in the state.
Human rights advocates aren’t pleased with the Nigerian governments response to the uptick in kidnappings across the country. An absence of political will and Nigeria’s patriarchal society are to blame for the lack of action the government has taken to reduce schoolgirl kidnappings, according to R. Evon Benson-Idahosa, founder and executive director of Pathfinders, an NGO working to eradicate modern-day slavery and the sexual exploitation of women in Nigeria.
“Every time a single girl is taken, that sends a message,” Benson-Idahosa told Global Citizen, “not just to the girls and their families and the people who have no option but to live in these areas, but to every single girl in Nigeria about their value and about how important or not they are.”
There have been numerous other kidnappings that don’t make the news because they’re not as large, Benson-Idahosa said. Abductions for ransom are common in Nigeria, and the targets are often considered wealthy enough to pay a fee in exchange for being freed. Attacks by armed criminals are on the rise along the highway from Nigeria’s capital Abuja to the city of Kaduna where Engavers College is located, but school raids are rare, according to Al Jazeera. Police recently freed hundreds of men and boys on Sept. 27 who were abused and held captive at a religious school.
Kaduna is hundreds of miles from the Borno State area, where the extremist group Boko Haram — responsible for kidnapping thousands of people and taking girls out of school — is most active. The Engravers kidnapping highlights the growing threat of abductions on children’s education across Nigeria.
Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates to “Western education is a sin,” aims to institute Islamic law in the country. In 2014, the group abducted 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno State, and 100 of them are still missing. Boko Haram has trapped women as sex slaves or forced them to marry soldiers, and pushed men to become soldiers themselves.
Boko Haram has invaded and burned down 1,400 schools in Nigeria and recruited children to join the group, and in some cases kill their teachers. In Borno State, 57% of schools remain closed. More than 20,000 people have died in the fight between Nigerian law enforcement and Boko Haram.
Activists and advocates criticize the Nigerian government for not doing more to free the Chibok girls, despite Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise to take down Boko Haram as part of his first presidential campaign in 2015. The social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls united the world to free the kidnapped girls, but advocacy efforts have stalled.
Benson-Idahosa, also an organizer of #BringBackOurGirls, said the government needs to invest in better school security.
Violence is only one of the many obstacles stopping Nigeria’s children from attending school along with economic barriers, and cultural norms. About 10.5 million of Nigeria’s children aged 5 to 14 are not in school, and more than half of the girls are not receiving an education.
Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the world’s first global fund dedicated to education in conflict and crisis, is working to provide new educational opportunities for 194,000 children displaced by conflict in Nigeria. ECW launched a year-long program to provide safe access to education for students in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States of North-East Nigeria through educational supplies, permanent schools, and training for teachers.
“Every single girl that is missing represents a life and a potential page in the history books of Nigeria,” Benson-Idahosa said. “It’s up to all of us to ensure that the bodies of African women do not continue to remain the most weaponized human resource in the world, it’s our responsibility that these girls are returned to their homes and their families and to continue the futures they’re entitled to.”