Nigeria schoolgirls kidnap: If they are freed by Boko Haram, their struggle will not be over



Alone, on her knees, Saratu gave birth on the earth floor of her room. She smiled with pride, having endured childbirth stoically, rather than crying out in pain as she did during the birth of her first child, when she was a teenager.

In Saratu's community, girls and women who make noise during labour or need the help of a birth attendant are considered weak. Hospital deliveries are for wasteful women. With 630 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, most of them in the north, Nigeria has one of the world's highest maternal mortality rates.

The plight of girls in northern Nigeria is receiving unprecedented attention now, after the abduction of some 300 girls by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. Its abuses, and those committed by Nigeria's security forces, are horrific and should be exposed. But they should not mask the more routine violations of the dignity of women and girls in Nigeria's north.

There remain large pockets in Nigeria almost untouched by "modern" ideas, such as the right of girls to get a basic education rather than become wives and mothers as young teens. Saratu's experience is very similar to that of other girls I have spoken to across northern Nigeria. They are born into deeply patriarchal societies in villages that are miles away from paved roads, electricity and running water. More than half of Nigerian children do not go to school.

Many northern Nigerian girls are married off at puberty, sometimes as early as 12 or 13. The child bride is expected to get pregnant within the first year of marriage and to prove her womanhood by going through childbirth alone. Many girls, with little education and few sources of information, have no idea of what is happening to them during these tumultuous events.

The Chibok abduction is noteworthy not simply because of the horror of the crime, but because these girls were rare in having made it to the final year of secondary school. Their parents broke from tradition and took risks – extreme ones, as it turns out. All that could change now. The education of girls, already a challenge, is likely to become even more improbable in the north-east. The message from Boko Haram to parents is: keep children out of school or the boys will be killed and the girls will be stolen to become "brides" or sex slaves.

The possibility of the girls' return appears higher now. For that we can thank tech-savvy Nigerians on Twitter who channelled popular frustration with the government's slow response and generated a movement that finally forced people around the world to wake up, and fully realise the scourge of Boko Haram and Nigeria's failure to contain it.

If the girls are fortunate enough to be returned to their families, we will celebrate, but their struggle will not be over. Some may return pregnant, violated by forced and fake marriages. What will happen when the supportive media and attention have faded?

Mausi Segun is Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon and her former boss Alex Salmond  

I voted Yes in the referendum – but that doesn't mean I'm going to vote for the Tory-esque SNP

Alasdair Clark

If I were Prime Minister: I'd shrink the gap between the highest and lowest paid

Marina Warner
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power