School girls’ abduction and sanctity of womanhood

The series of abductions of school girls in the northern part of the country has left many families heartbroken, frightened and discouraged to send their female children to school at a time when the country is battling to reduce the number of out of school children. ENE OSHABA examines these incidents and the implication on the sanctity of womanhood.

Nigerian, particularly women across the country and beyond, have expressed shock over the rate of kidnapping of school children especially young girls.

Since the night of April 14, 2014, when 276 female students were kidnapped from Government Secondary School Chibok, Borno state, by Boko Haram terrorists.

From the 110 Dapchi school girls in Adamawa to the over 350 Government Girls’ Secondary School, Jangebe, Talata Mafara, Zamfara state on February 26, 2021, to the abduction of students of Government Secondary School, Kagara, Niger state, and most recently the kidnap of over 300 girls from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, Afaka, in Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna state, in the early hours of Friday March 12, 2021.

Minister decries abductions

Speaking on abduction of school children, especially young girls, the Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, said they were one too many and not good for the safety and sanctity of womanhood.

Tallen described the frequent acts of kidnap as a calculated attempt by the kidnappers to instill fear in citizens and undermine the corporate existence of the nation.

“This act further shows that criminal gangs in the country are callous and have no respect for the dignity of human beings as enshrined in our laws and religious books,” she said.

“Keeping innocent citizens in captivity, for no offense committed by them, is not the right thing to do no matter the grievances,” she lamented.

Violation of rights

Globally, Gender Based Violence (GBV) is one of the most pervasive violations of human rights that affects women and girls and has severe physical, mental, social, economic, sexual and reproductive health impacts on victims and survivors.

In Nigeria, girls and women have often been described as the endangered species due to widespread violence which was at a disturbing high rate with one in four girls and one in ten boys experiencing sexual violence before the age of 18.

However, there has been increase in reports of GBV cases in the six geopolitical zones since the pandemic began with a 56 per cent increase in reports between March and early April 2020 to the first two weeks of lockdown.

Sadly, women and girls continue to suffer the height of violence with the spate of kidnappings which is already preventing and scaring young girls from acquiring formal education that can help them achieve great heights in the future.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Ms Audrey Azoulay, described the situation as “a twenty-first-century shame, just as she quoted the Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres, who said that it was high time for united action against insecurity.

UNESCO and the Global Coalition for Education had launched the Girls Back to School campaign and published an accompanying guide to more than 50 African Union countries to support girls’ return to school, while emphasising the need for all to support girl-child education.

Similarly, newly elected Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, expressed concerns saying the kidnapping can makes discourage parents from sending their children to school.

“When such abduction happens, especially to the girls it makes my heart weak and bleed. The first instinct of the parents is to say they won’t send their children to school because nobody wants their child abducted whether it is a boy or girl.

“I am sure if you check, you will see many of them will no longer return to school and may then enter into early marriage,” she said.

Also, the Founder and Lead Director of Stalwart Communities Africa, a women and children based NGO, Kate Pam, have noted the spate in kidnappings in the country, lamenting that it is hard breaking for women to go through such.

“We appear to be the endangered species , any girl going to school now is endangered and that increases the level of vulnerability because a lot of these girls don’t come back to see their sexually and emotionally abused and overcoming that trauma is not easy.

“Don’t forget these girls are still going to have children and this will impact the children so it’s a generation cycle of violence.

“I have been to IDP camps in Maiduguri where there’s a huge number of babies and more babies are born. This is really sad and I pray that the government do something about it so that girls will feel safe going to school because no parents will want to take their child to where there is no security,” she stated.

Sustaining girl-child education

In order to encourage parents and government not to be deterred by the effects of kidnapping, a coalition of some Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have charged women to sustain advocacies on girl-child education especially at the grassroots levels.

At a meeting organised by Women for Women International (WFWI) in collaboration with Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA), the Director, Programme and Admin, WRAPA, Anita Ari, stressed the need for the change agents, who are women drawn from the grassroots to sustain their advocacy programmes to promote girl-child education no matter the situation.

Similarly, the Country Director, WFWI, Ms Bukola Onyishi, said the organisation had trained over 5,200 change agents in phases for 12 months to intensify action plan on issues of rape inheritance problems, and education for the girl-child.

Onyishi the women were expected to sustain advocacies by amplifying their voices on issues affecting women and girls in their communities to bring an end to negative vices.

A participant, Ms Tamwakat Hassan, emphasised the need for training and retraining of gender advocates in order to effectively reduce the prevalence of violence against women and girls, land inheritance issues and promoted girl-child education at the grassroots.

Hassan, therefore appealed to the government to fully implement the VAPP Act, Child Rights Acts and other policies that would protect the women and children and ensure offenders were prosecuted.

FG’s efforts

President Mohammadu Buhari has regularly condemned the spate of kidnappings, tasking state governors and summoning security agencies in order to find lasting solutions to ending the menace.

The President has insisted that it is inhumane for gunmen to abduct teenage girls, saying the perpetrators of the dastardly acts were blackmailing the state.

“We would not give in to blackmail from bandits who are waiting for the payment of large ransoms as the government has the capacity to deploy a massive force against them in the villages where they operate.”

He added that the only hindrance is the fear of heavy losses of innocent villagers and hostages who could be used as human shields by the bandits.

Prayer to the rescue

Without hope in sight to an end to kidnappings, school girls included, the Minister of Women Affairs has beckoned on the citizens, especially women to intensify prayers to God for intervention.

She said, “We have cried, pleaded, prayed and fasted for all these to stop to no avail! I am saddened on behalf of all Nigerian Women and my heart bleeds anytime an abduction of a person especially our children occurs.

“We know the federal government will as usual defend its citizens especially children and expedite action for their release an I am confident that the Military and Security Agencies are on top of the situation but we must all pray along for their safe rescue and release,” she stressed in a statement.

“We are appealing to abductors of innocent children to abandon this heinous act and return all remaining children unharmed to their Anxious Parents.

“On our part at the ministry, we will continue to speak out and condemn kidnapping which is a crime against humanity.”

Way forward

In noting the importance of reviving the safe school initiative, Okonjo-Iweala said it was shameful that the country was experiencing the insecurity of this magnitude.

“Whoever these kidnappers are, hold your peace , please leave our children alone. It is shameful that we will have this kind of thing happening.

“We’ve spoken to Mr President and the Minister of

Finance to revive the safe school initiative and we urge the Minister of Women Affairs to pursue it to safeguard schools by providing solar light, fence barrier in order to make the schools a little bit safer for the children.

“These children are the ones that we are training for the future, so we must take care of them. I am tasking all the women, whatever you can do to demonstrate to these people that our children are not for play.”

On her part, the Minister of Women Affairs maintained that necessity is the mother of all creation, stressing that there is the need for all stakeholders to look at more creative ways that children can acquire quality education.

“People can learn to use technology to help these girls learn if not in the comfort of their homes, in safe places where learning and development will not stop.

“There is need for a multi stakeholders approach to this. Financial inclusion is also very important because if parents are empowered they would be able to take their kids to better schools or better quality of life.

“We have to speak up against this because it has happened so many times that we are beginning to lose our humanity and empathy and this is really sad.

“Starting from the Chibok girls we have so many of these girls rescued but Leah Sharibu is still with her abductors and this seems like a deliberate target to ensure that women don’t go to school.

“These girls are used as service tools to breed the next generation of terrorists so we must speak up and find the ways across structures of communities to the federal government.

“We must speak up and find ways across the structure of communities to the federal government,” she stressed.

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