In 2014, Boko Haram invaded villages throughout Nigeria and kidnapped 276 girls, the “Chibok girls”, from a boarding school. So far 103 girls have been released, 21 in October and the others last month. While their families welcomed them with open arms, fear quickly settled in as families feared the girls turning on them for the sake of Boko Haram. The families that the girls only dreamed of reuniting with are afraid of them, making life at home nothing like the girls had imagined. Furthermore, people seem to have stopped talking about the other girls still in captivity. Boko Haram’s Islamic militant group has killed over 20,000 people since 2009, targeting Christians and punishing anyone that resists his authority.
06/21/2017 Nigeria (Los Angeles Times) – In early 2014, Yakinge Kolomi faced a nightmarish dilemma. Boko Haram extremists had recently rampaged through areas close to her village in northeastern Nigeria, massacring men who refused to join them and abducting young women — then forcing them into marriage. Kolomi knew that her 12-year-old daughter, Hafsa, would make an easy target.
She listened to friends who urged her to find Hafsa a husband who could potentially protect her and weighed their advice against her desire to save her daughter’s childhood and keep her in school. After much deliberation, she reluctantly married her off to a middle-age neighbor in hopes it would save the girl’s life.
Weeks later, Boko Haram attacked their village. The Islamist militant group killed Kolomi’s husband, burned down nearby homes and kidnapped groups of children in the chaos. Despite her mother’s wish to keep her safe, Hafsa was among the many who disappeared — as did her husband, who was never heard from again.
“The military said that Boko Haram took many children, but they don’t know where they are,” Kolomi said in an informal settlement for displaced people in the Nigerian town of Jakana. “They say some died, but I don’t think my daughter did. I think she’s alive.”
In early May, the world joined Nigeria in celebrating the release of 82 girls Boko Haram kidnapped from their boarding school in the northern town of Chibok in 2014. The “Chibok girls,” as they came to be known, were a group of 276 students whose plight captured international attention. They were memorialized in the viral “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign and earned attention from celebrities including then-First Lady Michelle Obama.
A photo released on May 30, 2017, by PGDBA & HND Mass Communication shows newly rescued Chibok schoolgirls waiting on their arrival for rehabilitation at the Women Development Center in Abuja, Nigeria. (Sunday Aghaeze / AFP/Getty Images)
Since the government began negotiating with Boko Haram, 103 of them have been released — 21 in October, and the others last month. More than 100 remain in captivity, and some are believed to have died.
But the Chibok girls are only a tiny fraction of the thousands of people — including girls like Hafsa as well as boys — who have been kidnapped by Boko Haram, which is intent on ruling northern Nigeria as a caliphate under an extreme interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law.
Like the Chibok girls, these other children have suffered at the hands of the violent militants. Unlike with the Chibok girls, hardly anyone seems to care. And for the families of missing children, the wounds of their disappearances only deepen with time.
Hafsa’s mother and six siblings are still without news of the girl, who was kidnapped around the time the militants raided the Chibok boarding school dormitory. They do not even have photos to share with anyone who might be aware of her fate.
“People are narrowing it down and saying that the problem is getting better and the Chibok girls are being recovered, so everything will be OK,” said Isa Sanusi, media manager for Amnesty International in Nigeria. “Nothing is OK. So many other girls were abducted, but no one is even talking about them.”