Just over a fortnight ago, more than 230 school girls were abducted at gunpoint in Nigeria. A militant group known as Boko Haram is believed responsible for the abductions, and members of that faction have reportedly forcibly married some of the abducted girls who were taken from a boarding school in Chibok. The kidnappings are believed to be motivated by opposition to Western education and specifically the education of women and girls. Desperate parents search and weep for their missing daughters, and once again, violence against young women is carried out with impunity.
The stolen girls in Nigeria come on the anniversary of an historic stand against abductions taken 37 years ago by mothers in Argentina. The day April 27, 1977, marked the first of many rallies for the “disappeared.” After losing countless children during Argentina’s Dirty War to torture and death, the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo marched in front of the Casa Rosada government palace in downtown Buenos Aires. They marched every week after that, demanding their rights as mothers to know what had happened to their missing children. The mothers and grandmothers marched in circles carrying pictures of their loved ones, raising awareness about those abducted in a defiant mobilization of motherhood.
In Canada, 150,000 Aboriginal, Inuit and Métis children were forcibly removed from their homes and put into residential schools. Mothers who tried to resist the state-sanctioned abductions were thrown in prison. In the residential schools, the First Nations children were robbed of their culture and language, and many were physically and sexually abused. The far-reaching generational consequences of those colonial abductions can still be seen today in the disturbing numbers of Aboriginal children in foster care and disproportionate numbers of First Nations people behind bars.
A new generation of First Nations sisters and daughters have also been stolen, with at least 824 documented cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Despite Canada’s history of cultural genocide against First Nations people and the current crisis of abducted Aboriginal women, Prime Minster Stephen Harper has ignored the calls for a national inquiry into the missing and murdered women.
Instead, the Canadian government has been using its resources to unlawfully spy on, and try to silence, those who would hold them accountable. Cindy Blackstock is the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, whose mandate is to stand up for children against the inequalities they face. Blackstock – who has filed human rights complaints against the government – discovered that she was the subject of illegal surveillance and that personal data illegally gathered on her had been distributed to 189 different government officials. By spending taxpayer money on the illegal monitoring of advocates and activists, instead of holding a national inquiry into the missing and murdered women, the government remains complicit in the continued abductions of First Nations people in Canada.
The abduction of migrants along the US/Mexican border has been an alarming issue. In 2009, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reported the abduction of almost 10,000 migrants in just a six-month period. A 2010 report from Amnesty International estimates that 6 out of 10 migrant women and girls experience sexual violence, and migrants crossing the border are at risk of kidnaping, extortion, rape and people trafficking. On March 18, 2014, three Mexican women were abducted near the border, crossing after they were deported from the United States; there are no leads in the case, and their fate remains unknown.
On October 10, 1996 in Aboke, Uganda, 139 school girls were abducted from St. Mary’s Collage boarding school by the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Young girls were raped, and children were stolen from their education to be used as child soldiers and sex slaves. The Italian deputy head mistress of the college, Sister Rachele Fassera, followed the kidnappers and faced 30 rebels armed with rifles to negotiate the release of 109 of the 139 abducted girls.
The self-sacrificing courage and commitment shown by Fassera is the stand we all must take in the face of continued violence and abductions of women and girls around the world. As the parents wait with dwindling hope in Nigeria, and as more Aboriginal women continue to go missing in Canada, and as migrants get kidnapped after deportation from the States, we must each ask ourselves what we are willing to do today to help protect our sisters and daughters.