The Lost Girls of Nigeria: Social Media Campaign to Rescue Close to 300 Abducted Schoolgirls Goes Viral – By Sandra Prufer

—– More than a million people have been tweeting to #BringBackOurGirls

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Three weeks after more than 270 girls have been kidnapped at gunpoint from a boarding school in northern Nigeria people across the country and around the world are voicing their outrage and demanding that the Nigerian government and international community take action to rescue the girls.

On Monday, just one day after President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan admitted on state television that he had no clue about the whereabouts of the missing girls, the Islamic militant group Boko Haram took responsibility for the kidnapping. In a chilling video message obtained by news agency AFP, Boko Haram leader Abukabar Shekau threatened to sell them into slavery and to abduct more girls.

Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden”, has been waging an increasingly deadly insurgency since 2009 in the Muslim dominated north which has claimed an estimated 1,500 lives this year alone. Unconfirmed local reports suggested that some of the girls, ages 15 to 18,kidnapped by militants dressed in Nigerian military uniform in mid-April, have been trafficked to neighbouring Chad and Cameroon and sold for as little12 US-Dollars (9 Euro) as child brides.

The horrific mass abduction from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok and two recent car bombings in Nigeria’s capital Abuja that killed 90 people have galvanized Nigeria. The failure of the Nigerian military to find the missing girls and the poor response of the government undermined public confidence in President Jonathan. Adding to the outrage over the fate of the girls, news broke yesterday that eight more girls were kidnapped from a village in north east Nigeria.

International media coverage on the plight of the missing girls was initially slow, but has considerably picked up in May following the launch of the grass-roots #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign. Started on April 23 by a group of Nigerians, the hashtag has become a rallying cry to raise awareness and draw media attention to the heinous crime. Since then #BringBackOurGirls has generated over a million tweets. Facebook and other platforms, such as OneBillingRising, are used to organize solidarity events around the globe and spread the word by calling people to join the “social march”.

Malaka, a blogger from Ghana asked, “why is it so hard to bring back the Chibok 200?”, in a April 30 blog posting about the “lackadaisical response” to the crisis. “I don’t think Africa’s governments as a whole have any clue what we are dealing with. If they did, they would be clamoring to offer military assistance, aid, intelligence and any other support they can muster to bring these girls back, because mark my words – this is just the tip of the iceberg,” she wrote.

While distressed parents and concerned citizens took to the streetsin Nigeria, members of the Nigerian diaspora organized rallies in London and several cities in the United Statesurging the Nigerian government to intensify search efforts and the international community to help.

A petition, set up by a young Nigerian woman who currently resides in Germany has gained over 400,000 signatures. Addressed to world leaders and international organisations, the petition is calling upon the world not to forget the girls and to support all efforts to ensure their safe return, and a that efforts are made to ensure all schools are safe places to learn, protected from attack.”

Globally celebrated education activist MalalaYousafzaiis lending her voice to the campaign urging the international community not to forget about the girls. “If we forget about these girls it means we are forgetting our own sister, our own people,” she told BBC radio. The 16-year old Pakistani survived an execution attempt by Islamic militants after protesting against the Taliban crackdown on girls’ education in the Swat Valley.

Numerous celebrities, including Hilary Clinton, rapper Chris Brown, singer Mary J.Blige and actress Amy Poehler, have joined the campaign, generating thousands of retweets.

Former British prime minister and UN Special Enjoy on Global Education Gordon Brown is set to travel to Abuja to offer the government all the backing that the international community can give as they take on the Boko Haram terrorist group. “Like millions round the world, I sympathise with the parents whose two week long nightmare continues unabated,” Brown said in a statement. “Girls should be able to go to school without being in fear of their lives.”