Plight of missing Nigerian schoolgirls highlights an underlying lack of regard for female education


The world can not even agree how many girls were abducted from a school in north-east Nigeria last month, never mind where they are now. But, as things get ever more desperate for the hundreds of families who await news about their loved ones, experts warn that the underlying social tensions which led to the attack have still not been addressed.

Groups of women in the country protested last week, outraged that the girls had not been found. But few are talking about the wider issues leading to the attack: namely that there are more children – and mostly girls – not in school in some areas of Nigeria than in any other part of the world.

"Ten and a half million children are not in school in Nigeria out of 57 million globally," said David Archer, ActionAid's head of programme development. "There are more children out of school in Nigeria today than back in 1999. Out of that 10.5 million, about six million are girls. Of those that do enrol, under two-thirds complete primary enrolment."

More than 300 schoolgirls, aged between 15 and 18, were abducted from their school dormitories in Chibok in Borno state on 14 April, according to recent updates by police. Many were attending the school only to take their exams because their own schools had been shut as a result of attacks by Islamic extremists. It is thought more than 50 have escaped their abductors, but aside from sketchy reports that some have been forced into marriage or taken across borders, there is no trace of the others.

It is believed the terrorist organisation Boko Haram, which opposes education for girls, is responsible for the kidnappings.

Literacy and the socio-economic status of women and girls varies dramatically depending on where in Nigeria they live.

More than two-thirds of girls in the north aged 15 to 19 are unable to read, compared with less than 10 per cent in the south, according to ActionAid. In the north, only 3 per cent complete secondary school and more than half are married by 16.

International attempts to help locate the missing girls are being stepped up. The US said it had offered its assistance last week, and Foreign Secretary William Hague has offered Britain's support.

Labour's deputy leader, Harriet Harman, said on Saturday that the international community must "up the tempo". She added: "As each day goes by, concern is mounting. This needs to be put higher up the priority list. Young women's lives are at stake, and the principle that you can safely be educated as a woman in northern Nigeria."

The former development minister Andrew Mitchell agreed. He called the abduction an "appalling attack on civilisation in Nigeria", adding that if the Nigerian government asked for assistance, then Britain should take the request seriously.

Girls' education is seen as either not economically valuable in some parts of Nigeria, or as too expensive, according to ActionAid's Mr Archer, despite national legislation which is supposed to ensure free universal education. "The government is massively underinvesting in education," he said. "It spends about 1.5 per cent of its GDP on education when globally, the recommendation is [states] spend about 6 per cent. There is scope to significantly expand spending and that's where transformation will happen."

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan referred to the abduction publicly for the first time last week when he referred to "our missing girls". He said: "The cruel abduction of some innocent girls, our future mothers and leaders, in a very horrific and despicable situation in Borno state is quite regrettable." He added: "We shall triumph over all this evil that wants to debase our humanity."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower