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329. That is the number of girls, ages 16-18, who were kidnapped from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria on April 14. The girls -- returning to the region continuously threatened by Boko Haram to take final exams -- were snatched from their beds in the dead of night by the Islamist fundamentalist group, whose name translates to: “Western education is sinful.”
Terrified, the girls were herded onto trucks by 100 men at gun point. Fifty-three of them managed to escape. At least two of them, Rehab, 17, and Comfort, 15, did so by grapping hold to branches, jumping from the vehicles and running for their lives deep into the wild Sambisa forest. They didn’t know when or if bullets would pierce their backs or their skulls; all they knew is that they had to take their chances.
Yet 276 girls remain in the belly of the beast, sold to terrorists as sex slaves and trafficked into Cameroon and Chad, with hope fading that they will ever be seen again.
And, until last week, we didn’t know one single name.
“It is a very bad situation for those girls,” says Mma Odi, executive director of the Nigerian charity Baobab Women’s Human Rights. “The men went to the school for no other reason than to make them their sex objects. The men will have reduced them to sex slaves, raping them over and over again. And any girl who tries to resist will be shot by them. They have no conscience. The conditions will be terrible and it seems like the government has just abandoned them because they are girls and they are poor. If they were the sons of the rich, the government would act. Their abductors are not human beings and if the girls get out they will no longer be normal. They will have to have years of counselling to recover.”
One girl who managed to escape said that she became a terror leader wife because she was prized for her virginity. She told horrific stories of girls being raped up to 15 times a day, and others who were in danger of getting their throats sliced if they did not convert to Islam.
With a reported three girls dead and 18 battling illness, the situation is beyond dire. It is incomprehensible. The magnitude of 329 girls being abducted from their school, a place where they should be safe, is something that is not easily put into words. As a mother, your greatest fear is not being there to protect your children when they need you most. As Black mothers, both historical and current events have proven that we must also fear that no one else will be there either.
Hundreds of African girls were kidnapped and it took the United States mainstream media three weeks to properly address the issue. And while there are political arguments over the U.S. policing the world and what role we should play in the warring of other nations, this country has no problem plundering Africa for its resources.
Through AFRICOM, the increased militarization of the continent has led to justifiable fears that it will become even more dependent on the United States. There has been an intensive push into Africa because it is diplomatically and financially advantageous for this government to do so. But when 329 Nigerian girls are abducted from their school? Not one word was said until black Americans led the charge on social media to #BringBackOurGirls.
This country has a habit of ignoring the plight of Black people, both domestic and abroad -- as proven by President Bill Clinton during the Rwandan Genocide -- so this is not new territory. Eight-year-old Relisha Rudd, who was abducted and reported missing on March 1, is rarely granted a headline. The list of murdered, assaulted, falsely accused and arrested Black men and women would be an article in and of itself. Racism and American exceptionalism are close friends, so it is little surprise that the lives of 329 Nigerian girls living in poverty would not matter.
We, as Americans, have this terrible habit of only caring when the faces look like us, when the names sound like ours. In several parts of the world, we are viewed as terrorists. We are the men with guns raping and killing brown girls. When the children don’t look like us, when the dehumanization of their bodies is not happening in our own backyards, it is easy to turn a blind eye.
There are so many layers to this story that it’s easy to become simultaneously ensnared in the details and distanced from the heart of it. Sexism, misogyny, anti-Imperialism, militarization, terrorism, religion and racism are all worthy angles to address in the weeks and months to follow, but somewhere deep in the Sambisa Forest, and on roads in countries far away from their homes, are 276 girls who need to know they matter.
Now is the time that we send the message that your color doesn’t disqualify you from concern. Your culture doesn’t disqualify you for concern, nor does your financial status. Now is the time that we say Black girls from New Orleans to Nigeria, from California to Cameroon, are important, loved and worthy of our attention, resources and, when necessary, our rescue.
Boko-Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has said in a video first obtained by Agence France-Presse that he was instructed to sell the girls: "I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women.”
The Northern States Christian and Elders Forum has released the names of 180 of the girls. Please click here to read each name and then share the link. Our girls are not invisible.
Editors' note: as of the most recent information this afternoon, at least eight more girls have been confirmed to have been kidnapped.