LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The kidnapping of dozens more schoolgirls in northeast Nigeria by Boko Haram militants could undermine efforts to keep girls in schools and threaten progress on women’s education in the region, experts said on Friday.
At least 76 schoolgirls from the village of Dapchi were snatched by a faction of the Islamist group this week, according to the government, in a mass kidnapping that echoed the abduction of some 220 girls from a Chibok school in April 2014.
Authorities said on Wednesday the Dapchi girls had been rescued, but later backtracked and said they were still missing.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday called the abduction a national disaster, and said he was sending more troops and reconnaissance aircraft to look for the girls.
The mass kidnapping may drive parents to keep their children out of school due to fears for their safety, analysts say.
“If I was a parent in Nigeria, I’d be so scared to send my child to school,” Sola Tayo, a fellow at the London-based think tank Chatham House, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“This shows the state cannot guarantee that children in school are safe,” she added.
The abduction could hinder girls’ education in Nigeria’s conservative northeast, where the majority of girls are married off before they turn 18, according to charity Girls Not Brides.
“Already, trying to convince parents to keep their daughters in school is a challenge,” said Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode, co-convener of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign that drew international attention to the Chibok abductions.
“Now, this added fear of more girls being abducted - it’s going to make it even more difficult.”
Muhammed-Oyebode said any setback for education for girls would only further the aims of Boko Haram, whose name in the local Hausa language means “Western education is forbidden.”
Activists also fear the fresh kidnappings could undermine efforts to negotiate the release of the Chibok schoolgirls, and possibly even pave the way for more abductions by Boko Haram.
“The Dapchi incident is a major setback for hopes and expectations for a conclusive release of the remaining Chibok girls and all others still held by Boko Haram,” said Nnamdi Obasi, International Crisis Group senior analyst for Nigeria.
Nigeria is still haunted by the kidnapping of the Chibok girls in 2014. About 106 have been found or freed, but at least 100 are still believed to be in captivity in the northeast.
Boko Haram, which aims to create an Islamic caliphate, has killed more than 20,000 people and forced more than two million others to flee their homes during its nine-year insurgency.
The militant group has gained global infamy for its use of children, including girls, as “human bombs” in suicide attacks.
Reporting by Ana Ionova, Editing by Kieran Guilbert