Every day, girls in Nigeria are at risk of being abducted solely because they dared to go to school. Boko Haram, an extremist group linked to Al Qaeda, has been terrorizing the Nigerian population for over a year and, as part of this assault on the population, has been abducting young schoolgirls at random. In a disturbing video released this week, the purported leader of Boko Haram detailed his plan to continue to kidnap these girls and then sell them in the markets. The kidnapped girls some as young as 12 years old, will be sold into sex slavery or as slave laborers. The sale of these girls will serve to finance the organization. These acts of kidnapping are an expression of the group’s opposition to the education of women and girls which they claim is based on a particular interpretation of Sharia law. These crimes also are a way to weaken and intimidate communities and maintain control over the Nigerian people through intimidation. As of now, over 270 girls have been abducted by the group, their whereabouts unknown, their families left with questions and fear.
Girls are an especially high-risk group when it comes to regions in conflict. Not only are they female, but they are children; in terms of vulnerability- the deck is stacked against them. The systematic targeting of women and girls in times of war is a common practice as, in many societies, the honor and purity of women and girls is inherently linked to the masculinity of their respective menfolk. To marginalize, attack, and exploit women is to dishonor and humiliate an entire community. Therefore, the injustices perpetrated against women are often overlooked and instead attributed as crimes against society as a whole. Therefore, when these war criminals are finally brought to justice, the crimes against women and girls are frequently overlooked. Quoted on this issue in Foreign Policy, our legal director Akila Radhakrishnan states that ”[the] failure to comprehend the specific experiences of girls impedes accountability, reparations, and rehabilitation efforts” and if sexualized violence is not addressed in war crime tribunals, it "renders justice meaningless for these survivors.”
In a press release issued on May 6th after the report of eight more abductions, “UNICEF calls on the abductors to immediately return these girls unharmed to their communities, and we implore all those with influence on the perpetrators to do everything they can to secure the safe return of the girls – and to bring their abductors to justice.” Not only is the international community demanding the safe return of these girls, but for those responsible to be brought to justice. As long ago as last year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) reported that “there [was] reason to believe that Boko Haram had committed crimes against humanity, referring to reports of murder and persecution.” Now, a year later, these crimes have only increased with the addition of slavery and sexual slavery. It is absolutely necessary that these perpetrators are brought to justice as violators of international law and held accountable for their war crimes, including the sexualized violence and forced enslavement of these hundreds of girls. Every victim of deserves justice.