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Why are We Spending Less Time Searching for the Missing Nigerian Girls than Flight MH370?

05/09/2014 04:06 pm ET | Updated Jul 08, 2014

How much money, time and attention has been spent searching for Flight MH370, the missing 777 airplane? The answer is unknown but it is surely in the tens of millions of dollars and the press coverage in all media has been staggering. How many people went missing on that ill-fated flight? Answer: 239. How many schoolgirls were abducted and are being sold into slavery in Nigeria? Answer: 275. How much international funding has been expended to find them and how much press coverage has this outrage received? Almost nil.

Nick Kristof (2009 World of Children Award Honoree) rightly points to this in his column dated May 4, "I'm offended by the contrast between the global media focus on the missing MH370 flight and the uninterest in the even greater number of missing schoolgirls in Nigeria."

Today, weeks later and probably too late to save these girls from ignominy, but not too late to save their lives, we finally see some meaningful coverage thanks to this articles like this one at CNN International.

For the missing flight, many nations sent is aircraft, re-purposed their satellites, allocated deep diving subs and sent their naval vessels to large areas of the Indian Ocean to search, and they are still doing so...almost 2 months later...but for the schoolgirls? NOTHING.

We have to ask why. Here are three reasons:

  1. The airliner and the passengers are an economic liability of grand proportions whilst the schoolgirls are "expendable" from an economic standpoint. A 777 aircraft costs about350 million give or take and the insurance costs for the passengers are likely to add another300 to 500 million. There will be no lawsuit for damages in Nigeria and there is no insurance claim to worry about. And by the way, they are girls in a third world country...so what?
  2. Losing an aircraft like the 777 is embarrassing and because the passengers and crew were from many countries, mostly first world and economically strong, and were people with some means and connections, they get a lot of attention. The schoolgirls are from Nigeria, after all...in the eyes of many a "failed state" anyway. They have no power and no connections and can easily be relegated to page 16 or just forgotten. Who cares except of course their parents? We should care because as the CNN article aptly points out, terrorism knows no borders and if allowed to thrive will eventually find its way into our backyard.
  3. Finally, there is little or no risk to a massive search for the aircraft and its passengers but there is real risk to the search for the schoolgirls. Remote subs, highflying aircraft, unmanned spacecraft and drones...all arms' length. But in Nigeria, it will ultimately take some human intervention and there could be loss of life. Who wants to risk their lives over a few schoolgirls? The parents tried to find them using primitive tracking techniques and with bows and arrows as their only weapons. Intervention has risks and authorities in Nigeria do not see these children as worthy of their risk.

So we sit here weeks after the incident and listen to the leader of Boko Haram as he was quoted in the press recently describing the girls as "slaves" and said, "By Allah, I will sell them in the marketplace."

How long would the world sit by and do nothing if the 275 girls were German or French or American? How long would the government of Nigeria sit back and do nothing if the children were boys and were the sons of their cabinet ministers? How long would the world sit back and do nothing if there were only one child abducted and being offered for sale on the slave market and that child were the daughter Vladimir Putin or Barack Obama or Angela Merkel?

It is not too late and we must push for action NOW. Please contact everyone you know in Congress, everyone you know in the international community, speak out now and let's hope for a response that will set these girls free.