The plight of as many as 230 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Islamist terrorists earlier this month has taken a tragic turn: Reports indicate militants have ferried the girls across the border into Chad and Cameroon, and forced some of them to marry their captors.
Local leaders in the mostly Christian town of Chibok in northern Nigeria said multiple sources had reported seeing militants moving the girls across the border by truck and canoe.
Militants stormed a local high school on April 14, kidnapping dozens of schoolgirls preparing to take an exam. Most of the girls are between the ages of 16 and 18. Parents and school officials said at least 43 of the girls escaped in the first stages of the kidnapping.
By April 29, leaders in the town of Chibok told reporters that 230 girls remain missing. That’s a higher figure than the 180 recently reported as missing.
Pogo Bitrus, a leader in Chibok, told The Daily Trust (a Nigerian newspaper) that witnesses reported seeing the girls being forced to marry militants before they crossed the border. Sources said the militants paid a “bride price” of about $12.50 for each girl. Though the information couldn’t be immediately confirmed, the BBC reported that Bitrus sobbed as he relayed the news.
Yesterday, a group of some 200 women marched in the Nigerian capital of Abuja to demand more government action to rescue the girls. Naomi Mutah, a spokesman for the group, told reporters: “It is now the third week since these girls were abducted like cows for the slaughter house. We don’t know if they are alive or dead. Nobody from the government has spoken to us as a community.” Military officials have said they are working to track down the group, but critics say their efforts aren’t aggressive enough.
The kidnappings have sparked a national outcry, but the terror isn’t new: Boko Haram militants have killed at least 1,500 victims in northern Nigeria this year alone in a campaign to impose Islamic law on the mostly Christian region. On Monday night, the group attacked a village in Adamawa State, killing four residents, burning 10 homes, and torching a Christian church.
Members of Boko Haram haven’t claimed credit for the mass abduction of the missing schoolgirls, but in a video last may, the group’s leader threatened to capture women and girls and use them as slaves.
Women’s groups plan more marches to plead for government action in Nigeria, and have called on Nigerians to fast and pray for the girls’ return. One woman from the town of Chibok told the BBC: “We can’t bear it anymore. We can’t.”