The letter by senior military and political leaders in Tuesday’s Independent drawing attention to our collective neglect of the problems in northern Nigeria is timely and welcome. Boko Haram is rightly and universally condemned for its savagery, and particularly for the truly shocking kidnap of 276 teenage schoolgirls six months ago.
However, before endorsing a military rescue of these poor children it is important to recognise the background in which these kidnappings took place. I recently briefly worked as an obstetrician for Médecins sans Frontières in northern Nigeria and was surprised to find that the average age that girls marry in that region is 15 years.
The local fundamentalist tradition is that girls are given in arranged marriages shortly after puberty, often against their will, to older men. The median age difference between girls and their spouses is 12 years. Sixteen per cent of the girls have given birth by 15 and almost 60 per cent by the age of 18.
Once married they may live in purdah. This involves the strict enforcement of seclusion rules. They are expected to remain indoors except in extreme circumstances, and when they do go out with their husband’s permission they must be completely covered by a hijab and escorted. Muslim Hausa women in northern Nigeria consider purdah and wearing the veil as important symbols of Islamic identity.
Removing 15-year-old girls from their family and marrying them off is therefore accepted as normal in this part of the world. Boko Haram’s kidnapping was therefore an enormously effective publicity stunt but was otherwise just an extreme and violent variant of what is commonplace and accepted there. Their view is that these girls should not be in schools receiving “evil western education” but should be married and bearing children.
Attempts to find the girls by military action might therefore be extremely difficult. Many of them may now already be in formal marital relations. There are many thousands of young women in this society who have been displaced from their families often against their will and have suffered similar if less violent fates to that being endured by their more famous kidnapped compatriots. Finding the kidnapped girls will be challenging, dangerous and possibly even counter-productive.
Professor Ray Garry MD FRCOG FRANZCOG
Guisborough, North Yorkshire
I strongly endorse the call for international action, including by Commonwealth governments, to support Nigeria against Boko Haram and seek the release of the kidnapped girls.
In June the Commonwealth Local Government Forum board met in Abuja and pledged solidarity with our Nigerian colleagues. Local government is in the forefront in dealing with emergencies, whether terrorism, like the 2005 London bombings, or the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. Empowering local communities and ensuring they have the necessary on-the-ground capacity is therefore a vital component in defeating insurgents and mounting a rapid response to any emergency.
Commonwealth Local Government Forum,
Of course we can afford the NHS
Congratulations on your excellent series of articles on the NHS. I am sick of the argument that we cannot afford a fully comprehensive health service, and that we are now a more “expensive” population because we are more numerous and have the temerity to live longer.
The NHS was created at a time when this country had never been poorer in modern times. In 1946, the population suffered from endemic diseases such as tuberculosis and polio, and contained the veterans of two world wars, mutilated in mind and body.
I remember the red blankets in a children’s isolation ward – red because when the tubercular patients coughed up blood, it was less frightening.
I remember the queues of miners waiting outside the “silicosis board”, where those with permanently damaged lungs waited to be assessed,
There were still wards full of shell-shocked soldiers hidden away from society, still streets with malnourished children suffering from rickets and head-lice.
Treatment for all this was paid for by a country practically on its knees at the end of the Second World War, bankrupted and exhausted, a population which had long forgotten personal luxuries.
We are a rich country now. Though we have a different set of health problems, of course we can afford to keep the NHS fully funded by taxing superfluous wealth. The Labour Party needs the guts to say so.
As I stood outside Worthing hospital in the rain with the NHS staff picket on Monday morning I was struck by just how much support there was for this strike among the passing people of Worthing. Eight out of 10 passing cars beeped their horns in support.
It seems that the public share with the striking NHS staff the utter confusion over why incompetent politicians ruining the NHS through an unnecessary privatisation should get a 10 per cent pay rise while those saving lives don’t even get 1 per cent.
Dr Carl Walker
Worthing, West Sussex
Ukip joins the TV debate
So, having had an MP elected last week, Ukip has been promised inclusion in the leaders’ televised debates in next year’s general election; but no such promise has been made to the Green Party, which had its MP elected in May 2010.
Is this an example of what Tories claim is the BBC’s left-wing bias?
John Curtice (11 October) is wrong to state that “Ukip is undoubtedly taking votes from all parties.” The Green vote in both Clacton and Heywood and Middleton went up.
R F Stearn
Coalition prevented a Tory government
Michael Ayton (letter, 11 October) posits an interesting but ultimately unconvincing counter-factual claim.
A minority Conservative administration in 2010 would not have endured for long. Within months the country would have faced a second general election, just as was the case in 1974. The result almost certainly would have been a majority Tory government. In the meantime, the vigilantes in the bond markets would have had a field day.
His argument also fails to take account of the consensus between the Conservatives and Labour on issues such as raising student fees. Under a minority Conservative government we would not have seen the compromises that have given us a graduate tax in all but name.
Those of us who remember the 1980s realise that the Coalition Government has been of a very different hue. Who, for example, would have thought that the overseas aid budget would have survived?
Invaders from Europe
Thank you for underlining the dangers posed to us by the swarms of aliens invading our shores, many from Central Europe (“Alien species could cause an ‘environmental catastrophe’ ”, 13 October).
In your words, not mine, they are thieves and killers, they destroy our economy and, adding insult to injury, they smell. The photo you publish speaks volumes: reptilian eyes, lascivious lips, fangs, a moustachioed beast!
You describe how they are encamped across the Channel, poised to invade and transform our beloved Thames into a ghastly recreation of the Caspian! Gone for ever will be the days of old maids cycling past the rhododendrons to the pub for a pint of warm bitter and an unfiltered Players. No! It will be cheeky girls on mopeds with an e-cigarette in their pouting lips going to the discotheque for vodka!
Worry over ‘psychic nights’
Simon Usborne’s article on Sally Morgan (11 October) resonated very deeply with a local concern on the estate where I live.
This relates to a series of “Psychic Nights” being promoted here by the local housing association. When I questioned the wisdom of this the official concerned seemed genuinely surprised.
As someone who values rational thinking I welcome the “psychic awareness month” that has been launched by the Good Thinking Society. With “new ageism” rife in the land we need all the help we can to retain clear thinking about spiritual matters.
The Rev Andrew McLuskey
Why did the TV psychic Sally Morgan fail to foresee the homophobic behaviour of her husband and son-in-law (report, 14 October)?
Dr Alex May