By now I hope that you have seen the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls and know that almost 300 Nigerian girls have been kidnapped by a terrorist group (Boko Haram) and are still missing. Boko Haram is violently opposed to educating women and has promised to sell the girls into “marriage” (i.e. slavery). #BringBackOurGirls has become the rallying cry on behalf of those Nigerian parents whose daughters were taken from their boarding school in the middle of the night. It is a cry for help from the Nigerian government or any other world leaders that can provide a way for their girls to get back home. I have to say that since this story broke nearly 4 weeks ago, there has not been a day that I have not been grateful to be able to put my children to bed and feel relatively safe. Nor has there been a day that I haven’t prayed for God’s hand in guarding these girl’s minds, hearts and bodies, as well as, providing for their safe return. Living this whole scenario is unimaginable to me and I’m simply heartbroken for their parents.
I am not going to pretend that I have any real knowledge of the cultural and political workings of country of Nigeria and its government. Like you, I saw parents on television and in photos pleading for help and receiving what seemed like an excruciatingly slow response from their leaders. Then the response was less than desirable. I’m sure that there is a lot going on behind the scenes that we are not privy to and that is where I will leave it. However, what I do want to talk about is the speculation as to why it took so long for information regarding the kidnappings to make news here in the United States. To say that the main stream media seemed less than interested in the story would be an enormous understatement. In fact, it was social media that started spreading the story and brought it to the public’s attention. Only then did the networks and major cable news outlets catch on and even then it took a little while for the public to fully embrace this story. Why? I have my theories as to why this wasn’t on the public’s radar: 1) They are brown girls, and 2) It’s not our problem.
I was reading a post by Kristen Howerton over at Rage Against the Minivan about why we, world citizens, need to care about this situation and why she thinks it was under-reported, in which she says:
“… but many (myself included) fear there is a more troubling reason for the lack of coverage: these are African girls. I feel certain that a group of American or European girls, sleeping at a boarding school and stolen by armed men in the middle of the night, would absolutely be the top story. But African girls are Other. The distance, the difference, the ongoing challenge on the continent . . . have these things made us discount their humanity? Are we failing to identify with these parents because of racial or cultural differences? I hope that isn’t true. I fear that it is.”
I agree. I think that it is so much easier to distance yourself from another person when that person’s appearance, surroundings and day-to-day life is so vastly different from your own. We can call it what we want and say that the difference isn’t race, but rather it’s the fact that, for whatever reason we have a hard time relating to those who live in Third-World countries. However, generally speaking (and if we’re honest), when we refer to citizens of Third-World countries, the image that we see in our head is typically that of a brown person, which brings us back to race and ethnicity. I’m not saying that it is THE reason for our initial lack of interest, but I am saying that it is one contributing factor. The question that Kristen raises is valid …have we discounted their humanity?
It’s not our problem? Yes, it really is our problem. Boko Haram has vowed to sell these girls on the open market. They call it marriage, but I call it slavery. Human trafficking is an approximately $32 billion dollar per year industry world-wide. It is third behind the trafficking of illegal drugs and weapons. There are approximately 20 to 30 million slaves in the world today, 70% of which are female and half of them children. The U.S. State Department estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year; and 14,500 to 17,500 are trafficked into the United States annually. Does that bring the problem close enough to home for you? There’s more. There are 244,000 American children and youth estimated to be at risk of sexual exploitation. The average U.S. teen enters the sex trade around ages 12 to 14. The state of California has three of the FBI’s highest sex trafficking areas: Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego; while the National Human Trafficking Hotline receives its highest number of calls from the State of Texas. Really, it is our problem.
While it is true that usually children who end up in the sex trafficking trade here in the U.S. are runaways, that’s not always the case and there is some cause for alarm. College professor and author, Rebecca Hains recently wrote a piece on the abduction of the Nigerian girls (Black Girls are Missing in Nigeria and at Home #BringBackOurGirls) and included information on a crisis on the streets of Atlanta:
“Simultaneously, I can’t help but think of their case in the context of another situation, which I learned about this week at the White House Research Conference on Girls, held by the White House Council on Women and Girls. At a discussion during the conference, several attendees spoke to the need for increased national attention to the plight of black girls in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, where reports indicate that about 200 girls go missing every month—victims of human trafficking who are essentially sold, like the Nigerian high school girls, into sexual slavery. Yet this crisis in Atlanta is also flying below the national radar.”
Again, one has to ask ourselves why is this information not more prominent in the news? This time we don’t get the opportunity to say that it’s because it’s so far away from home. This is right here in our own back yard and consider this: The Super Bowl is the single largest human trafficking event in the United States (some say in the world) annually. Think about that. While you were enjoying buffalo wings and beer and grooving to the half-time show, there were young girls being sold like a piece of property. Again, this is our problem – this is a global problem.
What can you do to help these girls make it home? Every time you see an article on social or main stream media about the missing Nigerian girls, click “like” and share it on your social media accounts. By doing so, this will keep it in the news feeds, thereby raising awareness and keeping the pressure on the Nigerian government, as well as, others to help get these girls back home to their families. Unfortunately when things disappear from in front of us, we tend to lose interest. These girls and the girls on the streets of Atlanta; and the girls in Texas; and the girls in California and the approximately 20 million victims of human trafficking world-wide deserve our attention.