#BringBackOurGirls: a symbol of our inability to protect young lives

Chibok girls, Children in conflicts, Education in emergencies, Gordon Brown, Safe schools

Nigerian army soldiers stand outside the ruins of the Chibok school – where the word “girls” has been painted out on the sign

Still desperate but powerless after 730 days. Still relying on a miracle. The missing schoolgirls of Chibok and their families really deserve better.

As we mark the second anniversary of the abduction and disappearance of 276 teenagers from a north eastern town in Nigeria, we have all done far too little to secure their release.

The girls, all studying hard at school before their mass kidnapping, are now a symbol of our apparent weakness to protect young lives.

The exact whereabouts of the schoolgirls – most of whom are believed to be between the ages of 16 and 18 – remains unclear. In January, 2016 the Nigerian military were reported to have freed 1000 women held captive by Boko Haram, yet none of them were girls from Chibok.

It has been claimed that some were sold into slavery for Naira 2000 (about $10) each; others had been forcibly married to militants.

It has also been reported that Boko Haram has secretly issued a massive ransom demand of Naira 10bn Naira (around $50 million).

There had previously been talks about a prisoner exchange – overseen at one stage by the Red Cross – but that deal foundered after the Nigerian government said it did not hold any of the jailed commanders on a list given to them by Boko Haram.

Tragically any news about the girls of Chibok has now become rumour, hearsay or theory and the harsh reality is that the group, most with dreams of university and careers, have vanished from the face of the earth as the world idly waits.

Two years on and still their parents wake up each morning not knowing whether their daughters are alive or dead, married or single or violated as slaves.  They surely deserve more than a forlorn hope.

The treatment of the Chibok girls is among the worst of the horrors inflicted daily on children in conflict zones in a rising number of civil wars which are now at their highest level in 40 years.

Not since the ending of World War II have so many – 30 million girls and boys – become displaced from their homes. Never outside the context of world wars have so many children – 10 million – become refugees. There is no period in history when so many schools in so many countries been subject to so many barbaric terror attacks.

But the UN Security Council COULD intervene and encourage the Nigerians – with the support of the Americans, the French, the Chinese and the British – to undertake enhanced air surveillance and potential action on the ground to secure the sighting and release of the girls. And we could and should do far more to protect children from attacks and abductions when in school.

To show the kidnappers will be punished, the Security Council should adopt a resolution, under which the act of abductions of children will in future trigger an action making these terrorists  ‘listed’ by the United Nations Secretary General so that full weight of international  pressure is brought to bear.

All governments should now support a Declaration on Safe Schools, stating, as Norway has done, that attacks on schools, colleges and universities are crimes against humanity. And  the international community should ensure the funds for guards, for cameras and simple gates to protect  schools in conflict zones.

This means we must work, at the World Humanitarian Summit, towards increasing education's emergency aid funding, which is still only one per cent of the humanitarian budget. 

At the start of the millennium, the world, through the United Nations, made a promise to children. We pledged that no matter where they were from, they would all have an education and an opportunity in life. This commitment has been underlined in the new Sustainable Development Goals.

We cannot ever deliver universal education if we cannot ensure millions of girls and boys in conflict zones have the chance to go to school.

Gordon Brown urges UN action to find Chibok girls and protect children

More news

See all news