#BringBackOurGirls: The Plight of the Chibok Schoolgirls
by Kathleen Wang
What do Boko Haram, an ambiguous dress color, and Kim Kardashian all have in common? They were all a part of online phenomenons that rose to popularity through retweets and reposts. However, although the hashtags #BreakTheInternet, #BlackandBlue, and #BringBackOurGirls all had their turn to trend worldwide, perhaps the latter has more global significance.
#BringBackOurGirls first surfaced in April 2014 after African terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. Now, two years of speculation and anxiety later, 219 girls still remain missing. But what about those who were freed or who escaped?
For most, the answer to that question seems blatantly simple. Go back to their lives, back to their villages, back to their schools, and pretend that nothing ever happened. But this is easier said than done. In reality, months or even years of physical and psychological torture have left their mark on these girls, almost guaranteeing that they’ll never go back to their previous lives. Based on interviews with more than 46 of the kidnapped girls, forced marriages and converts, physical and mental abuse, forced labor, and rape were all staple norms during their time in captivity. Knowing this, it then makes perfect sense when the American Psychological Association states that “many hostage survivors are faced with depressions, anger, and a sense of hopelessness.”
And yet, none of these factors were taken into consideration after the release of 65 of the kidnapped Chibok girls, in a sense making the plight of those released maybe even worse than those still in captivity. Although freed, the Chibok girls were left to fend for themselves and try to assimilate back into society, a feat not easy to accomplish when that very society calls the kidnapped girls “annoba”, or “Boko Haram wives”, and accuses them of having been radicalized by the group and released for the sole purpose of recruiting others. But perhaps the worse of the blows falls to those who were raped and consequently impregnated by Boko Haram fighters. Not only are the children labeled “hyenas among dogs” by the local communities, but so are the young women who gave birth to them and are often confronted with uncertainty and sometimes even hatred for their children. According to one pregnant woman, her unborn baby “disturbs me a lot, because I always ask myself this question: Will the child also behave like JAS?” JAS is another name for Boko Haram.
Faced with all these serious consequences in the aftermath of the abduction, it is clear that neither the Nigerian government nor the international community can stand back and let these girls, now women, live out this tragedy for the rest of their lives. And yet, the facts paint a grim reality for the future of these women: Nigeria is ranked 120th out of 130 countries in the 2011 Global Gender Gap index, and the government has long adopted a policy of neglect, one translated to mean “leave it to God”.
All this has to change in order for the lives of Nigerian women to change. The first step for Nigeria is, clearly, to provide access to adequate medical and mental health services to all victims of abduction, so they can have a chance at rehabilitation. Instead of adopting a policy of negligence, Nigerian officials need to embrace a policy of restoration and support, making sure that the former captives know they are not alone in this battle against the world.