World leaders and the public are rallying in support of the more than 200 students abducted on April 14

By Jeff Truesdell
Updated May 05, 2014 02:15 PM
Sunday Alamba/AP

In a fast-moving conflict over the education of girls in Nigeria, a militant group took credit Monday for kidnapping more than 200 students three weeks ago, with the group’s leader vowing on videotape, “I will sell them in the marketplace.”

“They are slaves and I will sell them because I have the market to sell them,” Abubakar Shekau, the Islamic extremist leader of Boko Haram – which, translated, means, “Western education is sinful” – said in a video obtained by news organizations.

“Girls, you should go and get married,” he said, according to a CNN translation of his remarks.

The abductions have rallied world leaders, including former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who Tweeted on Sunday: “Access to education is a basic right & an unconscionable reason to target innocent girls. We must stand up to terrorism. #BringBackOurGirls.”

Some Forced to Marry

Reports say that on April 14 armed members of Boko Haram overwhelmed security guards at the school in Chibok, Borno State, in the remote northeast of Nigeria, Africa’s largest country, forcing as many as 276 girls out of their beds and into a convoy of trucks that fled into dense forest.

In revised figures, Nigerian authorities say at least 53 girls escaped, leaving 223 as captives – and some, according to additional reports, have been forced to marry their abductors, who paid a nominal bride price of $12.

According to the Associated Press, an intermediary who said Boko Haram is ready to negotiate ransoms also said that two of the girls have died of snakebites, 20 are ill, and those among the group who are Christians have been forced to convert to Islam.

In the state where the girls were kidnapped, 72 percent of primary-age children never attend school, according to figures from the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria. Almost 62 percent of Nigeria’s nearly 170 million people live in extreme poverty, says the CIA World Factbook. And in recent years, Boko Haram has killed hundreds of people in attacks at schools, churches, government buildings and elsewhere, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Parents of the girls who fear reprisals have been reluctant to speak out – but world leaders have taken up their cause.

“Wherever these girls are, we’ll get them out,” Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said Sunday, although the statement came after the Nigerian military initially claimed it had rescued all the girls.

With crowds from Los Angeles to London rallying over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said during a visit to Africa that the United States “will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to hold the perpetrators to justice.”