Twenty-one of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamic extremist group Boko Haram have been released and reunited with their families. They were held in captivity for two-and-a-half years — and still more girls remain hostages.
According to the AP, the government negotiated this release with Boko Haram to secure the girls’ liberation. The government also facilitated the families’ reunions, presenting the girls en masse to their parents.
The girls were freed on Thursday, and then flown to Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. Their parents, meanwhile, have endured wretched travel conditions to reach them: potholed roads, and the danger of insurgent attacks. They traveled from Chibok, the northeastern town from which the girls were abducted.
Of course, the reunion itself was tremendously joyful.
“I never expected I will see my daughter again, and I pray that those girls still left behind, that God will bring them out safely the way our own daughter came out alive,” said one mother, whose daughter Raha Emmanuel was just released. She spoke to the AP in Hausa, the primary language spoken by those in northern Nigeria.
There is, however, concern that the Boko Haram fighters forced some of the girls into marriage.
“Some of them came back with babies,” explained Muta Abana, also in Hausa. He is father to one of the 21 schoolgirls. “[But] think about it, are we going to kill the children? We won’t be able to kill the children because it would be as if we don’t want the girls to come back. God knows why it happened. It’s God’s will.”
One hundred and ninety-seven girls remain in captivity. The Nigerian government is purportedly in talks to procure their freedom as well. It’s not clear how the first 21 were released. According to two military officers, four Boko Haram fighters held by the Nigerian government were exchanged for the girls. However, a Nigerian negotiator who was unsuccessful in his talks with Boko Haram claims that the Swiss government paid a hefty ransom on behalf of the Nigerian government.
Muta Abana has expressed frustration at the way the girls’ kidnapping has been politicized over the last two-and-a-half years.
“People’s children aren’t money,” he said, “people’s children are not clothes you wear to campaign, people’s children are their pride.”
And currently, the paramount priority is tending to the physical and mental health of the 21 newly-liberated girls. Some are emaciated, showing signs of severe malnourishment. Each of them will receive all necessary medical care and attend trauma counseling in an effort to parse the nightmare they endured.