"In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters," Michelle Obama
The abduction of over 200 girls from a rural school in North Eastern Nigeria last month seems to have finally captured the world’s attention to the deadly and volatile state of Africa’s most populous country. Heartbreaking video has shown parents crying for their lost daughters and people crying out for the world to help. In spite of an influx of international support, which includes US drones flying reconnaissance, there is growing pessimism that a poorly equipped and trained Nigerian army will be able to bring the girls home safely. Some unconfirmed reports have said that the girls are being sold as brides to the Islamic militants for $12 each. The fact that the majority of these girls were Christians has for the most part been ignored by the media. But the alleged video of a group of the girls being compelled to participate in the daily Muslim prayer underscores the reality that there is a religious civil war going on. Over a thousand Nigerians have been killed by Boko Haram and the violence seems to escalate by the week.
There are too many lost girls in the world. The Nigerian situation is just one example of a global epidemic. The UN crime-fighting office announced recently that there are 2.4 million individuals across the globe at any given times who are victims of human trafficking. Eighty percent of them are being exploited as sexual slaves, of which two thirds are women. I will do the math for you-that is roughly 1,267,200 women. At least one half of those are under 18. This is not merely an international problem. Estimates range from 100-300 thousand minors are forced and or entrapped into the sex industry in this country. Fortunately, many groups are working to raise consciousness about sex trafficking and currently there are five bi-partisan bills being introduced in Congress to address multiple dimensions of this epidemic of abuse.
As I think and pray for those girls in Africa, I could not help but think about the “lost” girls we work with every week in Chester. No girls have been killed during the current upsurge in gun violence, but these children along with their adult counterparts bear the scars of grief and trauma. Though these girls have not been taken from their homes, something of their innocence has already been taken from them. They already have seen too much; and they have already lost too much. They act out…they lash out…they reach out…they turn away. The clock is ticking.
“Why are you not listening to us?” I said to the nine year old sitting across from my desk. She had just run out of her classroom for the second time that day. We as a staff had all come to the end of our patience with Cassandra (not her real name). She would instigate a fight one minute and then immediately try to hug and make up while her victim was still stinging. She would walk away from group gatherings and walk out of class without permission. The report from school was that the same kind of behavior and worse was happening there.
“I just wanted to be alone and listen to the rain. That’s when I like to think about my brother.” She proceeded to tell me about the day her older brother died. How her mother had warned him to stay off the street. How he was shot reaching for a cell phone that someone mistook for a gun. There were more details. I told her she could stay in my office and work on her homework and remember. “But,” I said, “you cannot be alone-you are not alone.”
Boko Haram roughly can be interpreted as “Western education is sin, or no learning (that is not Islam).” As I see firsthand the ongoing failure of all that we supposedly have learned about ending poverty, racism, inequality, and the mistreatment of children in this the greatest nation of the Western world, I am given pause. Our great institutions seem more like the Nigerian army than we would like to admit. And the girls are still out there waiting.
May God save the lost girls-everywhere and may God damn…(not mine to do)…..and bring home those who were taken and bring home back to those lost inside.