A video was recently released by the Nigerian-based Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram which shows that the schoolgirls kidnapped two years ago from the town of Chibok are still alive.
Now, it seems that girls like these along with other children are being turned into weapons by Boko Haram. Founded in 2002, the initial focus of Boko Haram is epitomized by their name, which translates to “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language.
According to Nigerian researcher Mausi Segun, approximately one million Nigerian children do not have access to education because Boko Haram has destroyed more than 900 schools and killed over 600 teachers.
The group managed to seize a large area in northeastern Nigeria, where it has declared the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. Regional forces have regained much of this territory in the past year.
As a part of their grab for power, the terrorist group has killed thousands, mostly in northeastern Nigeria, and abducted hundreds more. Some of those who have been kidnapped are being utilized as tools to help Boko Haram attain control.
Those who have managed to escape the terrorist group have recounted their experiences in refugee camps where Boko Haram would force girls to carry out suicide bombings. These girls are often subjected to violent methods of indoctrination, periods of starvation and sexual abuse. Because of these hardships, girls sometimes even volunteer for these roles because they offer a chance to escape.
The number of children being used as suicide bombers by Boko Haram has risen drastically from only four in 2014 to 44 within the last year.
This increase comes in conjunction with more frequent bombings in the countries of Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad. In these countries the number of bombings has skyrocketed from 32 in 2014 to over 150 in 2015. One in every five of these bombings has been carried out by a child, and of the child bombers, the majority are girls.
Using girls as suicide bombers is a highly strategic move. Girls make ideal bombers because of their style of dress. Explosive devices that are often remotely detonated can easily be hidden underneath their long veils or within the baskets that they carry on top of their heads.
The utilization of girls as suicide bombers also has the deadly consequence of making the most vulnerable people in these African societies the most feared, leading to a possible loss of trust between victims and the authorities that are meant to protect them.
Amnesty International reports that Boko Haram has abducted over 2,000 girls since 2014 to be used as suicide bombers as well as cooks and sex slaves. These abductions first brought Boko Haram to the forefront when the group kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in on April 14, 2014.
The mass kidnapping set off a worldwide social media campaign branded #BringBackOurGirls, a movement in which first lady Michelle Obama and numerous celebrities backed. Despite garnering widespread support, the campaign has fallen by the wayside as most of the girls still remain missing.
However, the recent video released by Boko Haram is meant to act as proof that these girls are still alive. The video shows 15 girls clad in black robes identifying themselves as the abducted girls from Chibok and stating that they have become converts to Islam.
The Nigerian government remains skeptical of the authenticity of the recent video. Nigeria’s information minister Lai Mohammed echoed these sentiments, stating that there appears to be little change in the girls’ physical appearance, leaving room for skepticism about the timing of the taping.
The validity of the video is crucial to the Nigerian government, which has asked for proof of life. Currently, Boko Haram is attempting to negotiate a release of their captured fighters in exchange for the abducted schoolgirls. Fueled by doubts about the video’s legitimacy, the government has been largely ineffective in the fight for the return of the abducted schoolgirls.
However, parents of the remaining 219 girls have continued to take a stance. A prayer vigil at the girls’ secondary school was held to commemorate the second anniversary of the mass kidnapping.
Elsewhere in Nigeria, protest marches were held as part of a week-long series of events to renew the #BackBackOurGirls movement and calls for their release. In spite of the Nigerian government’s inaction, the parents, relatives, and friends continue to march and fight to regain their loved ones, encouraged by the recent Boko Haram video.