Michelle Obama joins campaign to bring back kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls
Fears are mounting around the world as over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls remain missing after their abduction from their school in Chibok, Borno State on April 14.
The 237 girls are thought to still be enslaved by members of Boko Haram, an extremist Islamic group which has caused more than 1,500 deaths across Nigeria so far this year. A video was obtained by AFP news agency on Monday in which leader Abubakar Sheka claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and threatened to sell the girls.
"God instructed me to sell them, they are his properties and I will carry out his instructions," he declares in the harrowing hour-long video.
"By Allah, I will sell them in the marketplace."
In the video, Sheka argues that "Western education must stop. Girls must leave school and get married...I would give a 12-year-old girl in marriage; I would give in marriage even a 9-year-old girl".
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the UN Human Rights office warned that it is "deeply concerned" about the "outrageous claims" made by Sheka, and fears are thus mounting that the girls will be sold off in exchange for money, a practice which is not uncommon among extreme Muslim groups.
Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani activist who gained international attention in 2012 after being shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for speaking out about women's rights and education, told BBC Radio 4 last week that she believes the girls were, in fact, taken "because they were being educated".
"I want to make a request to the government of Nigeria that they should take [the education of girls] seriously, that they should take action, because in the end we will lose a whole generation," she told the Today programme on 19 April.
"It's every girl's right to go to school to get an education and it's the duty of the government to protect then, provide them full safety and to make sure that these girls are safe while they go to school."
US pastor and bestselling author John Piper has backed these comments, responding to the situation with a blog on the importance of education.
"While we advocate for vigorous efforts for the return of the young women, and while we pray for them and their evil abductors, it is fitting to remind ourselves why we as Christians encourage our girls and young women to seek a full education," he writes.
Piper asserts that all people are called into maturity, and are created to reveal God's goodness in all its fullness. "Education is the process of imparting habits and skills of reading that enable human beings to know God and love God as fully as possible," he says.
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"God wills for women to know him and love him as fully as they can. He wills for them to commune with him directly - as daughter to Father - through their encounter with the Bible. She is a fellow heir of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7) and is not to be limited in her access to her Father or his word."
Piper concludes that it is a fundamental right to be educated, and that not being so is detrimental to spiritual well-being.
"Women will be held back from knowing and loving God as fully as they can, if they are held back from forming the habits and skills of reading - not just the skills of a third grade reader, but the skills of discerning the full riches of biblical revelation concerning the great work of the Son of God in his life, death, and resurrection. This is the great work of education.
"God does not call any of his children, men or women, to immaturity. Therefore he calls them all to a full education."
Just a day after President Obama confirmed that a team of US experts has been sent to help with the girls' rescue, Downing Street has now revealed that representatives from the UK are also to join the relief effort.
"President [Goodluck] Jonathan accepted the prime minister's offer to send a small team of experts drawn from across Whitehall departments to complement the US team committed by President Obama," a spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday.
David Cameron has denounced the kidnapping as "an act of pure evil", and the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls is still trending on Twitter.
First Lady Michelle Obama is the latest in a stream of politicians and celebrities to lend their voice to the campaign; she tweeted a photo of herself holding a sign with the words: "Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families. It's time to #BringBackOurGirls" last night.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has also condemned the abductions and has called for increased prayer for the safe return of the girls.
"This is an atrocious and inexcusable act and my prayers and thoughts go out to the young people and their families at this upsetting time," he said in a statement released by Lambeth Palace yesterday.
"I appeal to those who have taken these schoolgirls to release them immediately and unharmed. This is in a part of Nigeria I have visited and in a country whose people are close to my heart. Let your hearts be open in compassion and mercy to those who have suffered so much."