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Our Girls cannot be a footnote in a history of violence, human trafficking, forced marriage tinged with psychological manipulation

On 26th January, 2020, news broke that abducted school girl, Leah Sharibu, had delivered a baby after a forced marriage to a Boko Haram Commander. Though there has been much media attention on the story, there has been absolutely no comment from the Nigerian Government or any of its related agencies.

It is most troubling to recall that the person of interest, Leah, is a sixteen-year-old girl who was abducted from her boarding school along with other female students yet she was the only student not released by her capturers because of her religious affiliation and her refusal to convert to Islam. She has apparently been trafficked to Niger thus one can only imagine the conditions of her existence as a captive school girl who, no doubt, has been subjected to a dehumanising existence, consisting of but not limited to: forced labour, sexual violence, physical and psychological torture and finally forced marriage and motherhood.

As I mentioned on a recent interview on TVC, Leah, who was forcibly removed from her school, family and community two years ago together with one hundred and twelve Chibok school girls remain in captivity after five years with their whereabouts unknown.

The sinister aspect of this regrettable and despicable tale is that the victims are girls – school girls who were left in the safety of their school compound under the watchful eyes of administrators yet terrorists succeeded in violently snatching them from the community and continue to hold them under coercion. It should also be noted that no boys have (and we hope will never) be taken hostage as they do not serve the same role as this group of girls whose education has been irrevocably altered whilst they perform unpaid work and exist under the repressive force of their overlords.

The psychological damage of this ordeal to these girls is monumental. If, and when, they are rescued, the care and attention necessary to rehabilitate them as they assimilate into the community would be significant and extensive.

The lives of Our Girls Matter® and as such, all efforts to secure the return of these children to their families and communities is a PRIORITY. Our Girls have become part of the ever-growing statistics:

40.3 Million Human Trafficking Victims Globally, 75% are women and girls (ILO)

23 Million Child Brides in Nigeria (UNICEF)

5 Million Girls in Nigeria Out of School (UNESCO)

15 years is Average age of Trafficked Children (NAPTIP)

17 Million Internally Displaced Children globally due to violence and conflict, 30 percent on the Africa continent (UNICEF)

In 2019, we marked the 30th anniversary of the Convention for the Rights of Children yet only twenty-four of the thirty-six states in Nigeria have enacted the Child Rights Laws of which Nigeria is a signatory.

Our Girls cannot be a footnote in a history of violence, human trafficking, forced marriage tinged with psychological manipulation and, lest we forget, enslavement by their subjugators who have violated every basic Human Right as well as the Nigerian laws. All laws which uphold their rights, welfare and security must be upheld in a humanistic and orderly manner.

The government must be held accountable for the safety and welfare of all citizens, most importantly the most vulnerable teenage girls, who fall prey to predators who do so not to value their lives but rather force the services they can provide. Greater emphasis must be placed on the security and welfare of all Nigerian children particularly the girls, who become women that keep the society in revolution. They are the mothers, wives, sisters; they are the fibre of society and they perform the unpaid work necessary for society to function and progress.

Nigeria as a nation must recognise Our Girls Matter® and play a vital role in the development of their community, society and nation. Currently, the society is froth with violence, trafficking, child labour and marriage, harassment, poverty and insecurity. Furthermore, the socio-economic and/or geographical location of a citizen does negate their rights to safely exist within their community neither should it dictate the efforts made to ensure their well-being and/or rescue from terrorists.

The education, safety and socio-economic welfare of our girls is not negotiable. It is imperative our girls are educated and mentored to become viable members of society not abducted, trafficked and abandoned in another country, not displaced within their own country and not married off as child brides due to poverty or the sick minds of pedophiles. Our Girls must feel secure with their families and communities and society at large. Our Girls Matter® because they are children, invaluable gifts which must be nurtured, protected, educated, encouraged and provided all opportunities to reach their full potential.

Our Girls Matter®. Therefore, the return of these precious girls to their families is of greatest PREEMINENCE in order for the community and the nation to heal from the traumatic and ignominious episode.

Dr. Ama Onyerinma
Founder & Executive Director,
Live Abundantly!®