Nigeria's Boko Haram Targets Children Just Because They Go to School

04/24/2014 07:22 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2014
  • Gordon Brown Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; UN Special Envoy for Global Education
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI via Getty Images

LONDON -- The world must wake up to an escalating tragedy now engulfing Nigeria. Today the lives of 230 teenage schoolgirls hang in the balance.

It has now been a week since the pupils were abducted en masse from their Chibok school in the remote northern state of Borno as they prepared for exams.

Boko Haram -- the terrorist group whose name in the Hausa language means "Western education is a sin" -- have yet to claim responsibility, but few doubt that the group that has murdered 5,000 Nigerians in the past four years is to blame.

Forty-three girls who managed to run away after being herded into lorries -- they jumped from the back of the trucks and hid in the dense forests -- have reported that their captors answered to Boko Haram, and one has said she counted over 200 Boko Haram militants involved in the attack.

In February, Boko Haram murdered 59 boys at a boarding school, shooting them and then burning down the school.

Last week in Abuja, the nation's capital, the group bombed dozens to death, later issuing a statement taking credit for the act.

In the last year alone, 1,500 adults and children have lost their lives in wave after wave of terrorist violence.

There are fears now that the kidnapped girls could be imprisoned in unreachable bush camps and held for years to be used as sex slaves and servants.

But we know also from previous murders that the terrorists do not stop short of massacres in their campaign to create a civil war across Nigeria as part of their long-term aim of imposing Sharia law.

For some months now, aid agencies have been working with the Nigerian authorities to guarantee better conditions in Nigeria's schools to help the 10.5 million out-of-school pupils in Nigeria.

We want to offer the Nigerian government and President Goodluck Jonathan support and financial assistance as they attempt to fight Boko Haram's attacks on children. We need to show that they can keep their schools open and secure.

It is part of an education plan to ensure that the country with the world's highest number of out-of-school children is given international backing to invest in teachers and school building and improvement, including the stepping up of safety measures for the students.

But school shootings, burnings and killings are now becoming too regular for the world not to take special measures. Children are being targeted simply because they want to go to school.

So we now need to make schools "protected places" and seek to ensure that the risks of violence are reduced.

We should agree with Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende that schools, too, are given the protection of international law. We cannot stop terrorism overnight, but we can make sure that its perpetrators are aware that murdering and abducting schoolchildren is a heinous crime that the international authorities are determined to punish.