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Abductions shut down schools in the North

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By Mercy Kelani

Approximately 10.5 million children in Nigeria are not enrolled in school.

Families in Northern Nigeria prioritize safety over education for their daughters due to a recent surge in kidnappings, stemming from the infamous mass abduction of 276 female students in Chibok ten years ago. Boko Haram, a militant organization, launched the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping in 2014. However, numerous criminal gangs have followed suit and have kidnapped hundreds of children through mass school abductions to demand ransom from parents. UNICEF reports that there are approximately 10.5 million children in Nigeria who are not enrolled in school, representing twenty percent of all children worldwide who are deprived of an education.

The closure of hundreds of schools in northern states persists as a result of the kidnapping crisis. These states are known for having one of the highest rates of students dropping out, particularly girls who are frequently pressured to marry at a young age in this region. In Nigeria’s north-western and north-eastern regions, more than 50% of women between the ages of 20 to 24 were married before turning 18. This data comes from Girls Not Brides, an international alliance dedicated to eradicating child marriage.

Situation may further widen the gap between male and female students.

Cristian Munduate, the Nigeria representative for UNICEF, stated that regions experiencing high rates of school kidnappings are also particularly impacted. This situation may further widen the gap in education between genders. She explained further that the fear of safety issues might hinder families from allowing their daughters to attend school, ultimately trapping them in poverty and hindering their chances of accessing education and financial independence. Abductions have been on the rise in Nigeria due to the country’s struggles with inflation, unemployment, hunger, and poverty. Despite strict penalties in place, authorities have so far been unable to prevent these occurrences from happening frequently.

Since 2019, there have been at least 735 mass abductions, characterized as an epidemic of ransom kidnapping, as reported by SBM Intelligence, a firm specializing in social and political research. According to aid workers, it is challenging to determine the precise number of children who have been abducted post-Chibok incident. However, as of 2022, Amnesty International reported that the count exceeded 1,500. In the year 2021, over 780 children were reported to have been kidnapped for ransom, as per the investigations carried out by the rights group.

Up to a 15 year jail sentence for people who make ransom payments.

Additionally, by the beginning of 2022, a total of seven states in Nigeria had shut down over 700 schools. In March, gunmen in Kuriga, a town in north-western Kaduna state, shocked the community by kidnapping 286 students and school staff, including children as young as eight. Despite the area previously being known for its safety, this incident highlighted the increasing threat of violence in the region. A few days before the deadline to pay a 1 billion naira ransom for their release, the Nigerian military successfully rescued the captives.

There is now an established industry built around kidnapping. Those who commit these crimes are confident in their ability to evade punishment and receive a ransom, stated Cheta Nwanze, the head investigator at SBM. A new legislation enacted in 2022 imposes a maximum jail sentence of 15 years for individuals who make ransom payments. However, the frantic family members of kidnapping victims frequently resort to utilizing social media to raise funds for ransom, accruing debt, or liquidating their belongings. Nwanze shared that many individuals he is familiar with have assisted in paying ransoms.

Related Article: Gunmen Kidnap 287+ Schoolchildren in Kaduna

He emphasized the potential danger, with the possibility of harm coming to loved ones if the demands are not met, a fact that the abductors are well aware of Dengiyefa Angalapu, a research analyst at Centre for Democracy and Development, a non-profit organization dedicated to West Africa, warned that preventing children from attending school in order to minimize risk may actually contribute to the cycle of crime, especially by making boys vulnerable to being recruited by criminal gangs through abduction. He expressed concern about hungry children not attending school being at higher risk of recruitment. He pondered how to inspire those children to embrace their community.

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