One-quarter of the girls released so far will return to school in September.
In 2014, 276 female students were kidnapped from a secondary school in Nigeria by the terrorist group Boko Haram, who ardently opposes western-style education, especially for girls, and says that such teachings conflict with Islamic traditions. Before the attack, Boko Haram‘s terrorism had caused that particular school and others in Nigeria to close for several weeks and months at a time because of a lack of security against the group, but hundreds of girls were called in that week to take their final exams.
The extremist group struck at night, acting as guards and forcing the girls to come with them by boarding trucks. In the following months, 57 of the girls had escaped, and in the ensuing years girls were slowly released or escaped one at a time, one even emerging with a 20-month-old baby.
In October 2016, 21 girls were released and parents and human rights advocates rejoiced. Last week, the Nigerian government announced that 24 of the girls that had been released over the years would be attending school again in the upcoming fall. This is a huge victory, as the whole reason the girls were in the kidnapped in the first place is because of their insistence to receive an education, something which even this traumatic incident didn’t change.
“Government is preparing the girls to go back to school in September this year because they have lost so much academically,” said presidency spokesman Garba Shehu. “It is not all the 103 so far released, but 24 of them.”
Earlier this month, 82 more girls were released, but none of them are set to return to school this fall because they need time to recover. It’s likely that every single girl has been a victim of sexual violence at the hands of the members of Boko Haram or witnessed terrible acts done to their classmates. As these girls wait to be reunited with their families for the first time in years, it’s much too soon to discuss when or if they will be ready to return to the classroom.
The newly-released girls are undergoing medical, physical, and psychological evaluations, and mediator and lawyer Zannah Mustapha, who helped arrange their release in exchange for members of Boko Haram that were imprisoned, said that some of the girls in captivity refused to be rescued. This refusal has sparked concerns that these girls may have been radicalized by the terrorist group, and others believe that the girls could feel ashamed and not ready for release because of the treatment they might receive when they return home. In Nigeria, and many countries in the world, there is a stigma surrounding sexual violence that treats the victims as disgusting and untouchable after their assaults, so the girls could see being a member of this group as their only way to continue with life.
Those granted access to the 24 girls returning to school were carefully selected, and the girls were sent to Abuja to take part in a government-run rehabilitation program prior to the beginning of the school year. These girls are so incredibly brave and a true testament to what it means to be resilient and stand your ground even during the hardest of times.