Michelle Gillett: Deborah, Ladi and millions more



I have their names on the shelf next to my desk so every time I stand up or leave the room, I see them: Deborah Abge and Ladi Wadel, I take a moment to say a prayer for their safety and return, and sometimes I try to send them a psychic message, "Be strong, be safe, we are going to find you."

I know that my thoughts and prayers probably do little to help these two Nigerian girls who were kidnapped from their boarding school along with 200 of their schoolmates a month ago. But they do ensure I don’t forget their plight. But they do keep me from slipping
into indifference. I got their names in church on Mother’s Day as part of group prayer where the names of the missing girls were written on strips of paper and members were invited to take some and commit to praying for them until they are found.


The girls were abducted from their boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria, by an Islamic militant group, Boko Haram on April 14, more than a month ago. And des-
pite the concern and shock we feel, I worry that we will forget about them. There will be other tragic events, and those school girls thousands of miles away in an unfamiliar culture and land could easily recede in our memories. In a video aired on May 5, Abubakar Shekau, Boko Ha-
ram’s leader, said, "I took the girls, and I will sell them off. There is a market for selling girls." Sadly, what he asserted is true in many parts of the world.

An article in National Geo-
graphic Magazine last year, reports, "one out of nine girls in developing countries will be married by 15, according to the United Nations. An estimated 14.2 million girls a year will become child brides by 2020 if nothing changes. Driven largely by poverty and cultural traditions, such marriages are usually arranged by family members. The physical and emotional consequences can be life shattering, even fatal."

Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Stephanie Sinclair who has been documenting child marriage "all over the world for more than a decade," spoke to the magazine about her work and said the best way to end child marriage is to keep children in school for "as long as possible. Education is the most protective factor in keeping the girls in school and educating their families about the harm of child marriage."

There are a number of organizations working to putting an end to the practice of child marriage. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is chairman of a group called "The Elders," a group of independent global leaders who are working for peace and human rights. The group has announced its intention for an end to child marriage by 2030.

The kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls has created momentum in making the prevention of child marriage a priority. But, as Sinclair says, "it’s about keeping the momentum."

A friend posted a cartoon of a pie chart of news stories on Facebook the other day. One tiny slice of the pie was "the boy who was saved by his cat," a similar-sized slice was "the kidnapped schoolgirls," a teeny slice was "ice melting inevitable/we are doomed." And the biggest slice -- almost the whole pie -- was "Solange v. Jay Z." Non-news commands a lot of our time and interest. It took us three weeks to pay attention to what happened to those schoolgirls in Nigeria and to finally express outrage. Now there are groups of activists and organizations working to get the abducted girls home. It might be an effort in futility.

Boko Haram has broken the girls into groups so that will be harder to find them. I think I will be praying for Deborah and Ladi for a very long time. But I think they would want me to do more than pray for them. Two-thirds of the world’s 800 million illiterate citizens are women. Deborah and Ladi risked their lives to be educated; it would be a shame not to continue their legacy and make it possible for girls to be educated without risk.


Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, fellow and deputy director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, suggests, "Every one of us can make a difference in supporting children’s education all around the world. A quick online donation of time and funds can support NGOs such as Room to Read and larger organizations such as CARE and PLAN. Many NGOs focus on education, including initiatives such as Gordon Brown’s Education Without Borders, which is working to get refugee children into classrooms. Letters and calls to Congress can keep the pressure on members to keep this issue at the fore. And pressure on Congress can also keep foreign aid funded and support for programs such as conditional cash transfers to keep girls in school front and center."

I am not going to stop keeping Deborah and Ladi and their fate front and center until Bishop Tutu’s pronouncement is realized.

Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.


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